As Malawians go to the polls on 20th May 2014 to choose their leaders for the next five years, there is wide acknowledgement across every fabric of society that these elections are exceptional in both timing and context.
Our elections will coincide with our 50 year independence commemorations; which to many, symbolize the need for collective reflection of the journey travelled thus far, our achievements to date and the legacy for our future generations. At home, electoral campaigns have been run in a feisty manner, largely stemming from a clear recognition on the part of politicians that Malawians are hungry for real change and not for empty platforms, platitudes and promises.
Elsewhere, Africa is deemed as a continent on the move economically, politically and socially and Malawi cannot afford to be left behind. It is only by electing a credible and honest government that Malawi will stand a chance of meeting its citizen’s aspirations and assuming its rightful place as a force among its peers. This is not a luxury, it is a must. It is a necessity.
It is both a must and a necessity because there is a lot at stake with this election. If Malawians chose leaders that are not credible, they will render themselves voiceless and will abstain from their much needed political influence.
Dishonest leaders will only be accountable to a select few rather than to society as a whole, they will govern in their own interests and use this power to shore up their positions as their first priority.
Malawi’s scarce resources which are meant for service delivery and wealth creation will be diverted to meet personal objectives (cash gate is a case in point). Institutions that ought to control and challenge the executive—parliament, the courts, political parties, media and civil society will be subverted if not undermined by corruption so as to serve the interests of the few. Malawi cannot afford to let this happen. It will cost us another 50 years of sluggish progress.
So, what will it take to make a step-change in the way this country does business and ensure that Malawi veers off the dangerous social, economic and political precipice? We need a credible, honest and accountable government, which can secure the trust of its citizens by delivering on its promises. This government must have a coherent vision; it must be willing to implement and communicate hard choices with the people whilst being absolutely transparent in the use of the people’s resources.
The UDF will do just that. Our Manifesto espouses our vision for Malawi, which is framed into two broad pillars: inclusive growth and governance. It focuses on three fundamental elements:
a) to develop a clear and prioritized ‘policy reform package’, to be consistently implemented and championed by Malawi’s leaders; who must also be answerable for the delivery of these reforms even in periods of difficulty and uncertainty;
b) to grow Malawi inclusively, by stabilizing the economy (managing our domestic debt; implementing sensible fiscal and monetary policies and using our national budget to spend our public resources on the right priorities and monitor these accordingly);
c) to master the discipline of managing our public purse in a manner that forces the State to spend on the right priorities whilst also building and growing effective institutions to monitor and constrain (rather than reward) the abuse of power and public resources.
Delivering on the change agenda that I have outlined above is an ambitious feat. But the UDF understands that these reforms are at the heart of any credible and honest government. Hence, the UDF has identified a core set of ‘building blocks’/’levers for change’ that will be implemented within the first 100 days of our Administration. These will form the bedrock for consistently delivering on our vision for the next five years.
- We will appoint a credible and professional cabinet that will live within its means. It will comprise of honest and accountable leaders that have Malawi’s best interests at heart and render itself open to public scrutiny within the 100 days.
- We will establish a permanent National Economic Planning Commission to oversee coherent policy planning and implementation.
- We will ensure that all stolen monies through cash gate are returned to our state coffers and institute a transparent mechanism for re-allocating and accounting for these resources (through our national budget to be developed within the 100 days); to key priority areas including health, education, social protection, youth and women empowerment. We will also set out a robust budget that clearly outlines our hard choices within competing priorities and our efforts to grow and stabilize Malawi through our priority sectors. We will implement a self-imposed austerity programme which will include minimizing overseas travel by the President, Vice President, Cabinet Ministers and senior government officials.
- We will revamp Malawi’s Public Finance Management, Procurement, Accounting and Auditing systems by making the reforms (and capacity building) a priority agenda for both the President and Cabinet. The President and Cabinet will routinely report on progress on these reforms to all Malawians, including Parliament within the 100 days. We will develop a government-wide monitoring and results strategy (championed by the President and Cabinet) and publish the first monitoring and results report that will show progress across each and every strata of government.
- We will empower Malawians and relevant institutions to hold government to account for areas where results are poor. We will strengthen oversight institutions, including the media, parliament and civil society and speedily bring the access to information bill to Parliament and sign the Table Mountain Agreement on Media Freedom promptly. We will also develop a clear and time-bound Road Map for the Constitutional Review process.
- We will allocate not less than 30% of all current vacancies within the civil service to qualified and competent youth and establish a public/private sector internship scheme for the youth with the first intake within the 100 days. We will establish a revolving Youth Development Fund to provide student loans/scholarships for public and private institutions, business start-up loans and other catalytic investments.
I conclude with an assertion that Malawians must not be asked to narrow their ambitious expectations of what they want their government to deliver. As a nation, we have a lot of catching up to do. But this is precisely why we must elect a government with leaders that can credibly and honestly unleash Malawi’s potential. The UDF is confident that it possesses these qualities and we stand ready to govern Malawi.
- The author is president and presidential candidate of United Democratic Front (UDF)