With a month to go to next month’s tense elections, Malawi’s President Joyce Banda says she is too busy campaigning and has no time to debate with other presidential candidates.
Malawians must have seen the pullout coming. The president’s party set the stage for that possibility after the debate involving vice presidential running mates accusing moderators of bias and threatened to boycott future debates.
The president’s decision reminds this author of his secondary school teacher with zero tolerance for self destructive behaviors among studenst like drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
The teacher would say Malawi had too many people with few opportunities. So if someone chose to do things that would affect his chances, your best course of action to help yourself would be to stay out of his way.
There is speculation on why the President decided to skip the debate — Cashgate, the huge financial scandal that happened under her watch last year. Fraudulent payments were made from government coffers to businesses for services that were not rendered.
But Banda, who assumed office two years ago after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, wants her critics to know that she could have shut the whole thing down, that is, outsiders under the auspices of the UK could not have had the chance to audit government books if she was not serious about rooting out corruption. As we speak, suspects are being prosecuted.
If the administration has done a bang up job in dealing with the issue, it is unbelievable that Banda, who can be good on the stump, cannot stand on the same stage with the other presidential candidates and defend her record.
The President should know that given the country’s poor record in fighting corruption, the long list of arrests is not enough. People want to see convictions and sentences that will deter others from committing such crimes.
It is true that the Executive is not supposed to interfere with the Judicial branch of government. The three branches of government the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary — the first two elected directly by the people — exist to serve and protect the people and not work against each other.
There were of course thousands of cases before Cashgate but many would agree that Cashgate is an emergency and like in an emergency room at the hospital where medical professionals decide which cases to attend to first, Cashgate can be put on the fast track. Besides, that is a reason why special courts are set up to be deal with certain issues quickly.
That Cashgate has affected delivery of health services to millions of Malawians is a fact and donors, who decided to withhold aid to the country, want results as well.
Alexander Baum who is the EU ambassador to Malawi was quoted by the BBC saying there was “a crisis of confidence.”
He said: “Unless there is transparency and everybody has the feeling and trust that the crisis has been addressed with full determination, confidence will not return.”
Malawi must therefore pull out all the stops to deal with the crisis but if the most powerful office in the land, the presidency that is, cannot use its authority to intervene and help win back that confidence, it would appear the office is useless.
President Banda’s challengers believe they can do a better job than what she has done so far. Her main challengers are Malawi Congress Party’s Lazarus Chakwera, Democratic Progressives Party’s Peter Mutharika and Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front.
When you act a fool, the teacher would say, you should suffer the consequences. It is expected that the three challengers will, and they should, exploit Cashgate during the debates the president has chosen not to attend.
Paul Maulidi, the ruling party’s Secretary General, says they will answer issues raised during the debates on the campaign trail. One would want to believe that Banda, who remained the country’s Vice President after she was expelled from Mutharika’s party over succession disagreements, is not a kamikaze.
Spiritually guided by controversial Nigerian preacher T.B. Joshua, the Malawi leader who wears her religion on her sleeve hopes “God has blessed me” as she recently told a political rally, adding that it was God who gave her wisdom to adopt unpopular policies for the good of the country.
But God is also on the side of other presidential contenders, according to individuals who call themselves prophets and claim to have received communication from God on who will win the election next month. What is puzzling however is that they are predicting different results effectively saying there will be more than one person to emerge as winner which is beyond the realm of possibility.
If God is indeed involved in politics, believers should rest easy and trust that He will do the right thing on May 20.
*The author is a former founding editor of Maravi Post [and now a columnist for Nyasa Times]Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :