Couple of weeks ago on this forum I discussed opposition party’s unconvincing and in some cases outright lack of formal response to the cashgate scandal. Opposition’s lack of clear stance on the issue and seeming reluctance to take the incumbent administration on led to my conclusion that perhaps it is because that those in opposition are banking on their chances winning elections next year and they are queuing up for the public purse themselves. Consequently, they would not want all the cashgate loopholes seal.
Now Atupele Muluzi, UDF’s presidential candidate has issued a strong statement on cashgate, demanding answers on what exactly happened and calling on the government to take serious measures to ensure that such colossal looting of public resources does not happen again.
It is a welcome development, and Muluzi regardless of his own political background and connection should be commended for coming in the open and say what had to be said. Staying quiet on the issue, as he has been all along would have been the easiest option for him.
Which is why the statement begs a question, why release a statement now when it has been months since cashgate scandal unravelled. Indeed cashgate goes back to the night of 13th Sep
tember when a budget director in the ministry of finance, Paul Mphwiyo was shot outside his house. The timing of the statement gives it its context.
As much as Muluzi did not personalise his statement and he stayed clear of making it an obvious political statement, by strictly focusing on policy issues, the statement is a political one that will advance Muluzi’s, and perhaps UDF’s political, not national agenda. The demands of the statement are a clear case for UDF being pro-poor and a social justice party. Nothing wrong with this, in fact it is issue/ policy based politics that all progressive Malawians want to see.
Yet Muluzi’s statement is not a one off wonder from Malawi’s usual politics. It is a different kind of symptom of structural problems affecting Malawi political establishment. Consider that Muluzi is a member of parliament and he attended the last sitting, which was brought forward by some weeks in order to discuss the cashgate scandal.
However, Muluzi opted not to make this carefully crafted statement in parliament. Yet, this where it could have carried more weight, especially as the session was called specifically to discuss cashgate. What impact will this statement now have on the way forward on cashgate? Does this not reduce Muluzi’s statement, which is portrayed as issue of national importance to a political statement only aimed at wooing votes for himself and his political party?
Muluzi has called the current governance system and its response to cashgate business as usual. He is right yet the same apply to the entire opposition. If not politics as usual, what they have done insofar as cashgate is concerned? What opposition party have inspired confidence in Malawians that could have handled the cashgate scandal better, let alone stopping it in the first place?
This is not to undermine Muluzi’s statement but it is important to look at it within its actual context. After all, it is no use to praise our political leaders for doing what they suppose to be doing. We can always do better; Muluzi, his UDF and the entire political establishment must do better. Do they not say the progress you make is not always how rich you are?
Currently opposition parties in Malawi are not vigilant and flexible enough to respond to government failures and whatnot because the way they are structured makes it impossible. If opposition want to respond effectively then they must start with structures like a shadow cabinet.
Shadow ministers from the shadow cabinet must be the ones to respond and offer alternative policies to their corresponding ministries in the incumbency. This would make opposition more efficient, responsive and progressive. It would promote issue-based politics because the opposition would have to offer alternatives and not personal attacks, as it is the case.
This would allow opposition to be seen and considered by their contribution of ideas to the public forum. This would indicate what those in opposition are capable of doing should they get into power. Bloated ministerial cabinet has always been a perennial outcry in Malawi, opposition are inevitably among those calling for leaner cabinet. Having a shadow cabinet, opposition give themselves an opportunity to demonstrate how they would do it once it power.
Yet, this will not happen for the simple reason that opposition leaders are in fear of alienating and losing party members who would walk away and go where they may be considered for ministerial positions. A key lesson here is that politics in Malawi however you want to look at it is still business as usual.
Muluzi’s statement has rightly given him some attention but Malawi politics will move on as usual once the attention span is over because the statement does not offer any structural changes to Malawi’s political establishment.
Note: this column will return on 8th January on Nyasa Times, as Christmas & New Year, respectively, fall on the next two Wednesdays.
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