“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18
It never rains, but it pours! That’s the only way to describe the predicament that has befallen the APM administration barely 6 months into its term of office, with increasing revelations of unethical behavior amidst a national financial catastrophe. It has, over a very short space of time, engendered a crisis of confidence that threatens to topple its credentials to lead the country.
Following the continued withholding of aid by our donors, the operations of the Malawi government are slowly grinding to a halt as the economic and fiscal scenario continues to deteriorate at an ever-increasing pace. The situation has been compounded by incessant calls from the judiciary for an increase in their salaries and wages as the support staff strike enters its third week without any compromise in sight.
The APM administration has also been hit by embarrassing revelations of unprincipled access to funds from the National Aids Commission (NAC) and allegations of attempts to bribe members of the media fraternity that have sparked calls for the impeachment of President Peter Mutharika. The appointment to the rank of Deputy Inspector General of Police, of a senior officer that was apparently involved in the suspected murder of a Polytechnic student – Chasowa – during Bingu wa Mutharika’s tenure, has also sparked outrage from human rights organizations, civil society and members of the NGO community. All these have seriously dented the image of an administration that seriously needs to salvage its reputation.
It is highly unlikely that donors will return soon and the DPP administration will need to come up with extremely creative ideas to overcome a negative fiscal situation that appears to have few options in terms of solutions. The camel’s back could well be broken by a potential nation-wide strike given government’s sensitive disclosure that civil service salaries for November will be delayed. This, coming as we approach the festive season, is an emotive issue, especially that arrears have not been paid since October, 2014. Government needs to seriously avert this situation by ensuring that salaries are paid soonest, come hell or high water.
In the midst of all the brouhaha, President Mutharika and his ministers have been eerily silent, creating an impression that there is no one in charge of the affairs of the country. The lack of effective communication and action from the top has prompted speculation of a leadership vacuum that could trigger calls for the government to step down; we are in a precarious situation that has potential to lead to unprecedented actions in the history of our nation.
In a previous article, this column advised President Mutharika to wake up and smell the coffee and to take remedial measures that could include forming an inclusive government with members of the opposition in order to mitigate the impact of the crisis of confidence in his government. The administration would be well-advised to heed this call sooner than later. In addition, the APM administration needs to engage the Malawian people honestly and openly about the country’s dilemma with its finances and developments in the economy. Effective communication and exemplary behavior are key to regaining the trust of the people.
On another note, whilst admitting government’s failures in some respects, the demands for immediate salary increases knowing that there are no resources to support the adjustments, is both unhealthy and reckless. The parties involved need to come up with an acceptable compromise to unlock the deadlock. A scheduled, staggered increment over a number of years might be a suitable alternative to a one-off increase that will break the bank and result in non-payment.
The current stand-off with the judiciary staff has far-reaching implications in the delivery of justice that is affecting ordinary Malawians in terrible ways and further creating the picture of an inept and clueless leadership. Furthermore, the situation has stalled defining cases of people allegedly involved in the MK24.0 billion CashGate fiasco. The speedy handling of these cases is one of the pre-conditions for resumption of much-needed aid.
To the administration once again; the allegations of unethical receipts from NAC, the apparent attempts to bribe the media and questionable appointments are sufficiently destructive to warrant timely damage control. President Mutharika needs to take immediate action to rescue himself and ensure that heads roll for the serious lapses in judgement. He also needs to come out clearly on what his government is doing to arrest the economy’s free-fall.
Strong, principled leadership is always a legitimate expectation but citizens expect it even more in times of calamity. Malawi is entering a period of crisis and President Peter Mutharika cannot afford to adopt the ostrich mentality when his government is under siege.
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(Chikavu Nyirenda is a Senior Lecturer in Banking and Finance at The Catholic University of Malawi and contributes, in his personal capacity, a weekly column, ‘Views from the Sunset,’ which is published in ‘The Daily Times’ every Monday).Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :