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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Funzo
Guest

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.

dee kay
Guest

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.

mmihavani
Guest

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.

Jelbin mk
Guest
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… Read more »
Nachika
Guest

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.

James Phiri
Guest
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… Read more »
Kambodya
Guest

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.

pasimaro
Guest

Ok

Patriot
Guest

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

kachikho
Guest
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… Read more »
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