Peter Mutharika’s baby steps

“A small step toward recovery is giant progress” Mark Cortes

By the time of writing this, Peter had managed to successfully appoint only one minister – Finance and Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Edward Gondwe.

Congrats are in order for good ol’ Goodall! Peter was spoilt for choice on the choice of Finance wannabes. Several names kept coming to the fore, Joseph Mwanaveka being one of them. But I guess the MRA-gate, where the tax-collecting body sexed up tax returns by expensive borrowings from commercial banks to hoodwink us that Bingu’s experimental ‘zero-deficit’ budget was working, did him in.

Mwanamveka was Secretary to the Treasury then, and he was, therefore, at the centre of tricking the hapless Ken Lipenga into spewing out figures that were not exactly right. Appointing Mwanamveka to the sensitive post could have sent wrong signals to the donors and the business community.

Peter also had the choice of maintaining Ama’s Maxwell Mkwezalamba. Like Goodall, good ol’ Max is an international civil servant of repute having been the African Union’s Economic Commissioner. Both good ol’ Goodall and good ol’ Max could have been easily acceptable to donors. The two had the pedigree, the integrity and the track record.

But Goodall it was and the muckraking community congratulates him unreservedly.

I spoke to Goodall as he was being driven to be sworn in by his new boss at Mtunthama. The old man – he turns 78 later in December – was not oblivious of the gargantuan task ahead of him.

“I’m yet to think of my reaction, I’m just humbled by the President’s confidence in me over the economy which has now become a complex matter,” he told me.

Goodall is right. The economy is in a tailspin, the billions of kwacha that were siphoned out by unscrupulous civil servants and businessmen have almost ground government business to a halt. Government ministries and departments cannot buy little things such as stationery to write memos on! That is how bad things have gone.

To boot, donors are holding on to some US $150 million (and more) of their budgetary support.

So Goodall Gondwe has his work cut out for him. He has to convince the donors that they can do business with the new Mutharika administration.

It was not only symbolic that Peter started with filling the Finance portfolio. He knows what happens in Finance will inform the overall performance of his presidency.

It is just as well that Goodall is not an MP now. He does not have to worry about boreholes in Enukwenu while balancing books at Capital Hill.

I must say Peter’s choice of Finance Minister is not a miss. Goodall, his advanced age notwithstanding, brings to Capital Hill tried and tested hands, a wealth of experience to marvel at. He has been in the corridors of the Bretton Woods institutions and can talk ‘their’ language.

So it is kudos to Peter for being visionary in appointing an old broom that knows all the corners. The nation waits with bated breath how the President fills the rest of the 19 (or is it 16 if we take out him and Vice President Saulos Chilima?) remaining portfolios.

Of course it will not be easy to come up with a cabinet of 20 without bruising a few egos. There certainly are many characters lurking in the woodwork who worked their butts off to ensure a Mutharika victory. Theirs was certainly not charity work; they surely expect piece of the action.

But Peter must know that, while he has some individual interests to take care of, he has the aspirations of the whole nation clasped in his executive hands. He has to juggle these diverse interests well if he is to leave a mark on the nation.

President Peter Mutharika and his vice president Saulos Chilima

President Peter Mutharika and his vice president Saulos Chilima

President Mutharika promised to be accountable to Malawians. We, in the muckraking community, are prepared to hold his feet to the fire, as it were. He must not be oblivious to the fact that 64 per cent of Malawians did not want him in State House. He has to work hard to convince this legion that he was actually the rightful one.

His beloved late brother was faced with a similar rejection in 2004. But he won over the unconvinced Malawians by getting to work on the very first day at work.

Peter can do it if he puts his heart to it. But the first step is the calibre of people he chooses to work with. He did not goof on his Finance guy; if he does that with the rest of his cabinet he will have the whole country singing his name to the stars.

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