Making democracy work for Malawi

“The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.” ~ Gore Vidal

A 2013 International Monitory Fund (IMF) working paper prepared by Christian Ebeke and Dilan Ölçer established that in Low-Income countries elections have negative impact on a country’s fiscal discipline during the election year and two years following those elections. The paper finds that during elections period “government consumption significantly increases and leads to higher fiscal deficits.”

The paper further added that “during the two years following the election fiscal discipline takes the form of increased revenue mobilisation in trade taxes and cuts to government investment, with no significant cuts in government consumption.” The paper concludes that elections not only lead to macroeconomic costs when they take place in Low-Income countries, such as Malawi, but elections also trigger a painful fiscal adjustments in which public investment largely sacrificed.

Those who closely follow Malawi political process and governance cannot really dispute against this conclusion. Of course it is a gloomy indictment democracies in Low-Income countries. Yet, doing away with democracies is not an option. Afrobarometer statistics indicate that over 70% of Malawians still prefer democracy to other forms of government. This is an overwhelming majority, it be underestimated. No Malawi President has ever won elections with this majority in history of Malawi democracy.graph

The point is to make democracy work for Malawi and its people, large and small; rich or poor; educated and uneducated; urban or rural. In relation to the findings of the IMF working paper, regulating campaign funding and political spending would be a good place to start electoral and political reforms.

Politicians and political parties spend a lot of money during campaign period with the aim of recovering the money at citizens expense once elected into office. The estimated amount of money spent by candidates to get into office is colossal. I do not believe that we have politicians among us that spend money for the love of Malawi and its people. Such spending is clearly about power and financial rewards. This is why electoral defeat is very difficult to accept in Low-Income countries.

Blessings Chinsinga of University of Malawi’s Chancellor College earlier this year wrote in The Sunday Times that contesting for a parliamentary seat is not getting cheaper. According to him, “conservative projections indicate that it took a minimum MK 5 Million to win a seat in the May 20 2014 polls.”

He further added:“In a country where per capita income is as low as MK 152,000 per annum, MK 5 Million is pretty much a fortune. Consequently triumphant candidates do not immediately focus on their triple mandate of representation, legislation and oversight. They instead, get preoccupied with how to recoup the investment made in campaign which includes courting the attention of the president for ministerial position.”

Thusly, it is not surprising that among the very first things that MPs and cabinet ministers do once in office is to demand their own pay increase. The State President feel obliged if not mandated to ‘look after’ people that helped them win elections. This contributes to unnecessary public spending because the president ends up with a bloated cabinet, a community of ‘advisors’ and often costly, unlawful sacking and replacing of officials in public institutions.

You only need to look at Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika’s presidency (so far) to see these examples at play. This fully supports the 2 years post elections public spending stated in the IMF working paper’s findings.

Chinsinga: Incentive structures

Chinsinga: Incentive structures

There is a say that in Low-Income countries people join politics if they want to make quick money, while in developed countries folks go and work in financial institutions if they want to achieve the same. Malawi is certainly living up to this stereotype. Democracy itself is not a bad thing and it is not true that it is not suited to other cultures and traditions. Like anything that is not properly regulated, democracy is open to abuse. Like I suggested earlier, Malawi politics needs to be regulated if its democracy is to be meaningful and work for the benefit of the country and its people.

One of the starting points is to have politicians and political parties publicly declaring their sources of funding. Politicians’ pay must be relative to the country’s per capita income, and the country must have a limit on political campaign spending. For this to happen, the country needs commitment and political will to establish necessary institutions, reduce the massive presidential powers and adhere to separation of powers between the three arms of government.

Enhancing separation of powers means that, among other crucial things, no parliamentarian should be a cabinet minister because this brings conflict of interest, as the two arms of government need to check on each other. Kenyans have successfully changed their constitution to achieve this. Doing this would go a long way in dealing with what Chinsinga described as “incentive structures”, which is what fosters political greed.

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10 thoughts on “Making democracy work for Malawi”

  1. Nihoriya says:

    Timakuziwani kuti ndinu zizukulu za DPP.Ndiye olomtalemba zokhalako ndinzeru pang’ono.Amalawi ife tizitenga kuti zachokera m’mutu wa mbuzi.

  2. Jelbin mk says:

    There is a very crucial point in this article of which if taken seriously will make democracy work for the interest of its cause, It doesn’t make sense to have an MP in the August house and the same individual is a member of cabinet who will debate on the same bills presented in the house by the cabinet he is a member. This will not only bring about sanity in people’s minds in terms of separation of powers between the two arms of government namely legislature and the cabinet but will also give an expansion of beneficiaries to our taxes because one person should not draw two salaries from the government at once which never happens in sane and well civilised societies such as South Africa,its the same as having a judge who at the same time is a member of parliament.

  3. Inu ama meter tatiwuzeni kuti Onse odana ndi Federation/Succession amwalira liti? Chifukwa mkutchuka ndi zoyeza zonze muno m’Malawi.Chonde tayesesani ku gwira ntchito ngati mnapitako ku school.Ndale zisiyeni.Kodi amwalira liti?

  4. Phwitiko says:

    I beg Malawians to think & reason as one person without indulging ourselves in politics regionalism & tribalism. Why hate each other so much when at the end of the day politicians enrich themselves by climbing on our back full of sores. If I were a lawyer should have gone to court to seek an injunction stopping MRA collecting tax from Malawians until whatever has been stolen is paid back. Why put our tax in a leaking bucket. Our democracy is not a democracy at all but a Tribalcracy. Check around you, stinking poverty but politicians busy getting rich by day. Remember the more the gap widens the more we are invitating instability. What is the difference between Muluzi Bingu, JB & Peter with Steve Macholowe, they all steal with the former using stupid law called immunity & the latter ordinary rules of thieves but all are thieves in the eyes of God. But what do you get from 99.9% of Malawians, votes for these hardcore robbers. Shame! Malawi will only develop when every citizen takes up his|her destiny by actively rejecting tribalism & regionalism by voting on issues. Believe me if we do that names like Kaliati, JB, PETER, ATUPELE, Chaponda, Kasambara etc cannot appear on the ballot paper.

  5. Phwitiko says:

    The article articulates a thing which is unachievable for the next 150 years to come. The present crop of Malawians is unprepared because people look things from primitive tribes lines. I want to say here that no matter how much one pumps sense into a Lomwe, Tumbuka, Chewa, Yao etc what you get is a big NO to civilised thinking & reasoning. I for one don’t care who rules the country as long as he/she does a good job. But sorry Malawians with the level of illiteracy & uncivilised educated persons compounded by greedy politicians we will be busking ourselves in stinking pover forever. Politicians want their families rule us for ever by creating dynasties thus why they want to get rich; see now Mutharika, Chihana, Atupele, Kaliati etc dynasties emerging. Thus gospel truth. Mr Jimmy good job but to deaf & blind Malawians. Sorry!

  6. Kamale says:

    vERY TRUE. KOMA TINGATANI TO DEFEAT THESE ENEMIES??

  7. RIP Sata says:

    Kod pulezidenti waku malawi afa liti? Akuchedwa.

  8. john k black says:

    Good analysis. It is worth working it out in more detail and discussing it with CSOs, who then can put it on the agenda in talks with donors. The way it is a privileged class does not give up its privileges voluntarily. Someone will have to put pressure on the Malawian ruling class. That should be both the population as represented in CSOs (unfortunately, political parties do not represent the population, they represent the founders/financier of the party) and the donors after requests from CSOs to improve governance.

  9. Pido says:

    This reminds me of the ruling made by Justice Mwaungulu. Politicians are there to plunder not to develop. Civil Servants work up!

  10. petrol kali says:

    Malawians let us do away with politicians in governemnt businesses. MP yemweyo cabinet minister yemweyo why dyela anthu andalewa

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