Presidential powers, public service reforms, a problem Malawians must confront

The recent announcement that President Peter Mutharika is to relinquish some of the presidential powers is a welcome development, and well overdue, given that he is Malawi’s fourth democratic president. Even though the reduction of presidential powers was one of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) election promises, we all know that electoral promises are not always met.

President Mutharika

President Mutharika

Successive Afrobarometer studies have established that when it comes to national issues majority of Malawians are more worried about food security, stabilisation of economy and national security, among the top issues. Presidential powers are nowhere on the list. This makes the announcement more interesting because it shows that it is not necessarily a populist decision from Mutharika, even though it has some elements of it. The announcement indicates some breakaway from tradition—Mutharika’s three democratic predecessors; Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda, respectively were all populist leaders–always pandering to perceived popular opinion.

For a country that has been massively affected by floods that have displaced hundreds of people and have killed 176 people with several others still missing, it is understandable that this important story did not gain much traction. Yet, the short history of democratic Malawi attests to the fact that abuse of presidential powers is by far the major culprit in Malawi,insofar as good governance and public service delivery are concerned. Presidents in Malawi have had too much power, and at a great cost to poor Malawians.

In Malawi there is no difference between the public service, especially senior positions, and sympathisers of the ruling party. Inevitably, this undermines professionalism and compromises the difference that must be there between the party in power and the public service. This diffusion leads to abuse of state resources by the party in power. I do not know how long is the piece of rope or how genuine is the announcement to reduce presidential powers but such move would definitely be a major step for Malawi democracy.

Recently the State Vice President, Saulosi Chilima told an audience of senior media practitioners that the public reforms that he has been tasked to oversee is a process that must be inclusive and involve all Malawians. The language is good, but this is a common statement in Malawi when things are not going well. Those in power and their ‘sympathisers’ are always happy to make national problems everyone’s responsibility. Yet, always want to claim all the credit when there is a success. Success is always a responsibility of the privileged few whom we must praise.

My immediate reaction to Chilima’s calls was: How can anything being championed by the government be inclusive when everything involving Malawi government is wrapped in political party colours, this time DPP’s blue? How many members of this Public Service Reform Commission are not members or sympathisers of the ruling party?

Letting go some of the presidential powers is good a move as I have said above but depoliticising government and state operations and activities is far more important than many care to think. The idea of all Malawians taking responsibility for reforms such as Chilima’s will not work until the government starts to listen to its critics and not only seeing them as adversaries out to derail government’s efforts. Honest critics are much more important than political party zealots telling you everything you want to hear.

Presidents ought to be questioned and challenged. This is not currently the case in Malawi. I am not sure if letting some presidential powers go is in line with the public service reforms but the two must go together like conjoined twins. It is one and the same. If this were to work, it would save Malawi and Malawians a great deal of money.

Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is currently pressing for Joyce Banda to reimburse the money she used to buy maize she distributed during her campaign. Presidents must be questioned and the source of such resources, where necessary, be stopped right away. This can only happen whilst the president is still in power. As it is, it seems like MHRC is fighting a lost cause.

The fight must be to change the system now. Chasing the shadows of retired presidents for financial reimbursement will not stop the looting today. It is important to make it possible that the incumbency be stopped while at it rather than wait until they relinquish power.

Muluzi ruled, now has a corruption case in court, Bingu came and accumulated wealth suspiciously, Joyce Banda came and MHRC are now demanding reimbursement from her. What is being done to stop the looting and abuse of state resources today? This is the challenge that has to be confronted. Mutharika’s directive for reforms and reduction of presidential powers shows he is aware of this problem. But politicians will not solve it; they created it after all.

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20 thoughts on “Presidential powers, public service reforms, a problem Malawians must confront”

  1. Funzo says:

    Great article! It is time people were able to honestly separate the actions of the civil service from that of the governing party. They should not be the same. That people say that the government has arrested someone is wrong; the police, the Director of Public Prosecution and the courts should not be seen as the same as government. To achieve this, the appointment of positions of responsibility in law and order must be independent of the president and his or her governing party.

  2. dee kay says:

    koma inu mumayembekeza chiyani.? upulezidenti amaudziwa munthu oti amangogona ku state house? what powers does he have? or you mean just a name? or you mean powers to to be sleeping in the state house? ndipulezidenti amene uja? sianapeza hotel koti azingokhala ku Kamuzu palace basi? angozitula zonsezo.

  3. mmihavani says:

    It’s the nature of human beings to resist change. But you cannot stop change, you only delay it. You may write useless articles Mr Kainja and Mr John Chikago to discourage but we the people are adamant. We know who paid you to be writing silly articles. A Malawi tikusukusulatu. Lazy, corrupt, allowance hungry civil servants benefit from status quo.

  4. Jelbin mk says:

    This is the best article I have ever read, Mr kainja you have given a credit where it is due and criticism where it is rightfully needed you clearly outlined that this reform process will be meaningless if we are good at having a national call to deal with a problem but when it comes to appointment in government positions ruling party sympathisers are on the list the rest are discarded which is really a big problem of which even Lucius pointed out that Teyende pamodzi kokasonkha misonkho koma tiyende ndi uyu yekha kokadya misonkhoyo. We are also expecting more positions in parastatals and crime bursting bodies to be included into this merit based appointment or ascendancy. Another crucial point on this article is that we should not fear to hold our presidents accountable because that is our legitimate right as citizens of this country to question all public officials starting from the first citizen (president) to a mere agricultural advisor in our rural areas. The problem is not that our country has bad laws that our leaders take advantage of, but the problem is with us citizens we tend to praising our leaders too high that they reach at an extent of regarding themselves as untouchables and we leave them escort free when they commit offences and wait until they go off the hot seat which is really nonsense and I do wonder who invented this law and for what purpose for not taking to task the sitting president In a court of law and yet the constitution says nobody is above the law which is contrary to the reality on the ground which should have been: The sitting president is above the law during his tenure of office.

  5. Nachika says:

    I totally agree with comment 6 “The Truthful One From the West” You really know what you are writing about and its very TRUE. Someone who is not a Doctor cannot Diagonise a Disease.

  6. James Phiri says:

    We need specifics, which presidential powers are going to be relinquished? It should also be noted that abuse of powers means that in actual fact the acts taken by successive Presidents are not due to the excessive executive powers of the President but actually are illegal acts that go beyond the powers of the President but the mechanisms to hold the President to account are not working. So you could reduce the powers of the President more effectively by improving accountability mechanisms. If a president wants to abuse his powers and do illegal acts it doesn’t matter what the statutes say are the limits of his power. By the way has this President ever declared his assets? How will we know how much money he had before he was in government and how much that has increased by the time he leaves office? For us to differentiate between his personal assets and government (public) assets we need to know what assets he has.

  7. Kambodya says:

    True that, becouse, in malawi, most presidents, they actually dont know, or deliberately, pretend not to know, that, using government resourses, without follow right procedures, is an offence. Hence, malawians, must, or should, make some proper arrangements, to deal with somepowers that are vested to the head of state, so that, the so called presidents, must be accountable. Hence, it is not good to allow the president to have more powers.

  8. Patriot says:

    Ati reform.
    Ma Passport asiya ku pulintatu. Dere zinthu zizitenga chinthawi zisanatheke.
    Civil Service olo kwa azungu is a mess.

  9. kachikho says:

    This is an excellent article which gives food for thought to all politicians and the general public in Malawi. During the MCP era there was nothing like political interference in appointments in the Civil Service as well as in the Statutory Corporations. Appointments were purely on merit and people with good experience and track record were promoted to higher office with more responsibilities. But now what is happening is that people with political connections come from no where to take up senior positions while experienced people who have worked for the institution for a long time are side lined or even removed or transferred

  10. I would like to advise fellow Malawians to engage in PAY-BACK the money which was used to build Ndata Farm,Money found at state house in cartoons at the time of Bingus death,and others things which the family is accused of stealing.I say this bcz this Peter knows everything that his brother stole whilst in government & he is the one who inherited the wealth & responsible for the family.Failing which he will continue to loot public funds as his brother.

  11. Right now if you go to SA president Zuma is being questined by the public through MPs on where he got funds to build his home house which is very expensive costing almost R250 million which is seen beyond his capacity.Bingu built Ndata farm,nobody questioned where he got such an amount of money,these are some of expensive developments affecting the economy thats why we are facing problems to today.HRM was there when Joyce Banda was distributing maize,why they didnt raise up questioned as to where she got the money to buy maize.It is bcz they feared her too much bcz she was president by that time,then we are not a democratic country bcz we dont enjoy it.Now Joice Banda is staying in America who gonna answer those questions?Plz fellow Malawians let us learn from other countries not across the seas just within Africa.Kenya is the other good example,where by you see MPs fighting in Parliament over a crucial bill to give more power to security egencies so that can be able to deal with the insurgents.In Malawi you see MPs only making noise when it comes to raising their payments.You will hardly hear noice on a certain bill which is for the betterment of Malawi ppl,which shows no commitment to their work.You can see others sitting uncontributive the whole week in Parliament just eating food bought by tax payers money,very shameful.

  12. I see this a big problem in Malawi unlike other countries in Africa like S.A where by you see the president being questioned to explain better how he came to afford building or buying something which ppl see it beyond his capacity.In Malawi i wonder why the president is treated like an egg or a Hero.These were the times of Kamuzu Banda one party system and it ended there.It is democracy now and we must copy from the outside world how the president is held accountable whilst in office.It looks we are better on copying when it comes to clothing & hair styles from other countries leaving this part which is very significant to Malawi as a whole.

  13. KUNGOTI says:

    A galu nonse a makomenti apa kuti zii, kodi mulibe chokamba, adayika pa manifesito yawo kuti dzidzatere, ziuchitikadi. Kodi sadaziike pa manifesitowo akadachita. Nayenso olemba uyu, tere uyesesetsa, uchita umva uwawa kupereka karediti pa nkhani yabwinoyi chifukwa wachita n’Aufi Pitala Mutha. Nthuyu m’wosakhala m’phuma, ngoganiza zedi, boma somayendetsera ku nsonkano yayi, boma womayendetsera m’ofesi anthuni, konga pano sitiuona Pulezidenti tere.

  14. The Truthful One from the West says:

    I repeat my criticism that members of the Public Service Commisssion have never worked in the public service and do not know the public service. Even Chilima is now learning about the public service. Peter Mutharika made a grave mistake in appointing members of the Commission. What Peter Mutharika did is the same as allowing a person who is not a medical doctor to diagonise a disease and prescribe medicine. There is no doubt that what the Commission is proposing will further weaken the public service. The Commission do not know that it is political interference that has greatly weakened the public service over many years. It is a grave mistake to make Malawians believe that reducing the number of Principal Secretaries to 18 will improve their lives.

  15. Malawi wa Lero says:

    Reduction of Presdential powers when in practice the opposite is true. Pita Mutharika has more wrong directives than any other past president in the time he has been president.

  16. lastborn wa noma says:

    odi ukoooo

  17. Zadziwika says:

    … yes, a good development indeed – Malawi needs such leaders

  18. Think Tank says:

    In Malawi we are afraid of reforms which we feel will reduce our popularity. MBC Radio and Tv are examples. We can only go forward when we find a leader and party which will set apart ruling political party from government business. It happens somewhere but in Africa we like to absorb government into a ruling party. What APM has done is the first step where merit will dictate. But this will also largely on the panels of the interviewers

  19. Kanyimbi says:

    This is true but in addition people in high government positions should be professional and avoid receiving bribes to frustrate government operations e.g massive black outs during Bingu time showed us that someone was behind it because with the coming in of Joyce Banda there were less black outs.

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