‘Do the things that you fear, and the death of fear is certain.’ – Emerson
The dizzying pace at which everything seems to be going horribly wrong in Malawi is frightening. We seem to be perfecting the art of self-destructive behaviour in ways that the world can only watch in incredulous awe. Instead of coming together as one in the midst of national problems and collectively working towards solutions, we are more eager to pull in different directions with mindless tenacity and regardless of the consequences.
It boggles the mind that at a time when the government is on life support and practically in a financial coma, all its three distinct arms are hell-bent on squeezing life out of it by insisting on wage and salary increments that cannot be reasonably implemented at this point in time.
The total lack of exemplary leadership and contradictions are shocking when you consider recent revelations of executive and legislative salary and benefit adjustments against the government’s dismal fiscal realities. One gets the impression of leaders that are lost in denial and are failing to get to grips with a precarious situation that promises to get out of control at anytime.
The top Executive arm has reportedly awarded itself hefty increments, the senior members of the Legislature are swimming in luxury and the Judiciary is clamouring for a piece of the non-exixtent pie. Meanwhile, the lower echelons of these arms of government are separately fighting for equally meaningful increases in their packages.
The ACB is about to initiate strike action, parliamentary staff are already in mode, university staff have downed tools and judiciary support staff have now entered a fourth week of non-work action. All the while, judges and civil servants are closely watching developments and threatening to react to any perceived negative responses from government.
Add to this, the now frequent electricity blackouts and water shortages that have generated so much anger and frustration in the general public space, and you have only one thing: a total mess!
The current scenario speaks volumes about how the affairs of government are run in this country. We do not have a proactive comprehensive framework for proper analysis of issues and situations to inform strategic decision-making that takes into account all possible relevant scenarios. Instead, we seem to have a reactive governance structure that works on continuous fire-fighting with no discernible unifying objective.
The focus is on short-term ‘fix-its’ that lead to other complications that are then treated with the same ‘pompo-pompo’ medication. Hence, the DPP administration, like others before it, finds itself in a potentially fatal vicious cycle of demands triggered by an initial inability to be brutally honest with itself and the Malawian people on the hard road ahead and the need for sacrifices following the donor aid freeze that had an immediate impact on our economy and the resources available to government to carry out its programmes.
The original sin was to increase salaries of civil servants without addressing the impact of the adjustments on a budget that already had a huge deficit. In addition, the failure to identify the knock-on effect of this action in terms of alleged previous ‘trigger agreements’ with the judiciary and other institutions and the natural instinct for equity from other quasi-government bodies leaves a lot to be desired and smacks of high-level incompetence. And, most worryingly, to build hefty increases in salaries and perks for the president, vice-president, cabinet ministers, senior government officers and members of parliament in an austerity budget is highly insensitive and offensive.
Can you blame civil servants, ACB staff, university personnel, parliamentary officers and the judiciary for adamantly sticking to their positions for significant adjustments to their lot following these revelations?! Why should everyone tighten their belts when the political elites refuse to walk the austerity talk? And imply, by their actions, that there is plenty of money to splash around. And to add insult to injury, the whole Minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe has the cheek of defensively justifying the indefensible increments of the president, vice-president et al as part of the harmonisation of salaries!! How can the still highly suspicious donors take Peter Mutharika’s DPP administration seriously in the face of such wanton self-gratification and hypocrisy!?!
As things stand, I would not be surprised if all the feverish attempts to restore the confidence of Malawians and donors have suffered a major set-back. Actions speak louder than words and there are serious trust issues with greedy leaders that are only concerned about their welfare at the expense of the country.
The fact that President Peter Mutharika and VP Saulos Chilima have – mark the words – deferred receipt of these immoral increments is a mere face-saver and does not absolve them from the recklessness of incorporating them in the budget in the first place. They should have led by example and flatly refused any increment as a matter of principle! That would have set the tone for APMs presidency and could even have formed the basis for strongly objecting to the ill-advised, spineless decision to increase civil servants salaries under our current dire circumstances.
If we are this irresponsible in lean times like these, one can only imagine the largesse that would prevail in better times whilst the poorest of the poor and lowly-paid civil servants continue to wallow in abject poverty. Its no wonder that donors have resolved to hold on tightly to their purses in the presence of our ‘usual suspect’ politicians. Such leadership without a conscience will not take Malawi far; unfortunately, even the opposition leaders have swallowed the bait of iniquity hook, line and sinker and have no moral high-ground to condemn the ill-gotten gains that they are now enjoying on the DPP gravy-train without remorse. Oh, cry my beloved country!
The festive season is fast-approaching but it appears that for most Malawians it will be a ‘fasting season’ due to prevailing economic hardships. One can only hope that the current pay disputes will be resolved soonest before tempers flare as the financial and emotional toll of providing the basic family necessities for Christmas overcome even the patient and wise. President Mutharika and the DPP administration need to come out of their coccoon and assertively address the concerns of the Malawian people and those of embittered staff of government and semi-government institutions in a meaningful and mutually satisfactory manner. As of now, it appears that there is total confusion and the level of incomprehension of government intentions, (in)actions and reactions is reaching alarming dizzying heights.
In his bid for the presidency in the May 2014 elections, the once vibrantly bright but now fast-fading leader of the UDF, Atupele Muluzi, burst onto the scene with the catchy slogan of ‘Business Unusual.’ The phrase has been over-used over the past few months and has become literally meaningless as we continue to see a confused lot of selfish leaders on all fronts, both ruling and opposition, with apparently no clue as to how to rescue this country from its immediate economic and political problems in a strategic, comprehensive manner. The level of disorientation defies logic and description.
One is tempted to surmise that we have now entered an uncanny period of ‘Dizziness Unusual.’
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(Chikavu Nyirenda is a Senior Lecturer in Banking and Finance at The Catholic University of Malawi and contributes, in his personal capacity, a weekly column, ‘Views from the Sunset,’ which is published in ‘The Daily Times’ every Monday)Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :