Listening to Presidential Press Secretary Gerald Viola—who is supposed to be the lead singer of the Peter Mutharika praise choir talk to Times TV last week—you would think that all of Malawi’s problems started the day Joyce Banda sold off Bingu’s beloved presidential jet.
I cringed with embarrassment at that interview. While Viola tried to appear assured exuding an air of arrogance and self-importance, it was clear he was unprepared for it or, worse still, bluffing. I felt ashamed that, for a country desperate to build its battered image, Malawi has such palpable shallowness in the quality of spokesperson for the president of the country.
I don’t know about you but if it’s this government’s diversion tactic to talk ad nauseam about the jet that Joyce Banda sold, then I am also quite keen to find out what happened to the proceeds from the sale or disposal of the Kwacha, Sapitwa and any other planes that Air Malawi had—done during the time the DPP was in power.
If Viola—who ostensibly speaks for the president—spoke not for the president on this occasion and misled the entire nation about President Peter Mutharika wanting to purchase a jet of his own, then I’m waiting to see him punished because he deserves no less. President Mutharika must know that a leader who hesitates to punish a miscreant is morally and politically weak and has no business being in that position.
Yet you must look at the bigger picture.
Peter Mutharika, in all likelihood, wants to have that jet. On several occasions, he has complained about the lay-over times at airports, as if waiting for connections in cushy airport lounges is something beneath him. Our leaders feel they are entitled to be as lavish in their lifestyles as they possibly can. They feel they can be arbitrary in their regard for the economic well-being of ordinary people; they can ignore them and not expect to be censured, not by the international community which gives them generous donations and loans, and not by their own people.
If President Mutharika doesn’t act to scold this man, then we can conclude that purchasing a jet is a Peter Mutharika pet project, anchored on some personal pride, likened to the attempt by Bingu wa Mutharika to purchase two obnoxiously-priced Mercedes-Maybach Pullman limousines soon after he took office in 2004. Only after the media carried the story and the public reacted with disbelief did Bingu back down, but not before he reacted first with fury and later with threats against the strong-willed reporter and the newspaper which had broken the story.
So I suspect Gerard Viola was speaking with the blessing of his boss, perhaps to test the waters. If he didn’t have Mutharika’s backing, he would have been fired by now. Before him, Frederick Ndala and Timpunza Mwansambo found out to their horror that once you cross Peter Mutharika in that job, you’ve burnt your bridge and there is no going back.
But if this was the plan, then I hope they have read the public reaction very well.
Malawians remember all too well what happened the last time a leader went shopping for a toy.
Bingu bought himself a private jet, using donor money meant to feed the poor. Not that there was a pressing need for it at the time, but he felt he could do it because he was the unquestioned leader of the country and nobody could challenge him because he was the later-day Ngwazi, God’s Gift to Malawi.
But Malawi went on a slippery slope soon after; the Kwacha took a battering, the economy tanked, there was a terrifying fuel shortage, and the loss in productivity everywhere was incalculable.
The reason by Bingu to purchase the jet was based on pride and emotion, not reason. Viola saying Peter Mutharika needs a private jet because Malawi is the only country in Africa without one was pride and emotion speaking, not reason. Any reasonable person knows that it’s not true. Off-hand I can name for him 10 African countries without a private presidential jet but I can’t be bothered.
Gerard Viola must take the message back to his boss as he has gotten it; that Malawians are saying he hasn’t done anything yet to deserve a jet. He must tell the president that people are angry because, not so long ago, he promised them milk and honey but is now giving them monkey nuts, instead.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :