Is the constitution only important on presidential succession matters?

Those who have been to the Silicon Valley seeking investment for their ideas will be familiar with an old fable popular among entrepreneurs. It is a story of a scorpion and frog.

Fate once had scorpion and frog together on a bank of a big river. Knowing that the frog can swim, the scorpion asked if the frog could carry him across the river. The frog hesitated. Why would he carry somebody who always likes to sting others to their death? The scorpion had a ready answer. He promised not to stick the frog. After all, if he were to sting the frog, the frog would be paralyzed and not be able to swim any more. That means all of them would sink and die.

That sounded very convincing to the frog. He agreed to carry the scorpion. Somehow in the middle of the river, the scorpion stung the frog and they all started sinking. The frog asked why the scorpion did such a fatal thing for both of them. The scorpion answered, “I am sorry I cannot help it – it’s just my nature”.

The story is used to warn new entrepreneurs that investors, regardless of what they promise you, are not interested to see your product grow. They just want to get a big return on their money even if it means dooming the whole business.

Some consequences should not be surprised; they are very predictable.

When Joyce Banda took over the government, there was jubilation all over. She was regarded as a saint. In fact some people saw her as a fulfillment of their dream for Malawi Utopia. A few days after she was sworn in, I wrote an article in which I warned Malawians to look forward to 2014 for new leadership other than concentrating on Joyce Banda. I argued that it was unlikely for Joyce Banda to fundamentally change the course of Malawi because she had been part and parcel of the old Malawi starting from the old CCAM/NABW days of the Malawi Congress Party to Bingu wa Mutharika’s government. Even the party she formed had no regard for constitution. For more than a year after it was formed, it produced no manifesto, no constitution and conducted no elections. Boy, oh boy did I want into a hornet’s nest with that article!

Today, Joyce Banda has shown her true colors by stinging the nation. She is a scorpion from the past. In a speech recently she said, “I do not have K4.6 billion to fund by elections. Those people advancing Section 65 implementation do not love you people. They want me to transfer money that would benefit you in cash transfer program”. In other words, she Joyce Banda has decided that she will suspend the constitution because she has better use of resources.

There are two things horribly wrong with this statement. First, why does she refer to the government coffers as her own money? It looks like we are going back to Kamuzu’s days when every project was financed by “money from Kamuzu’s pocket”. We now know that was not true, was it? And while we are at the same topic, is it not surprising that all of a sudden the first family seems to have money to donate to different groups in the country? Is it their money or government money? There is a difference, you know.

Here is another thing wrong with Joyce Banda’s statement. And this is a big one! Folks, if you have never gotten anything from any of my articles, I want you to get this next point because it is very, very important.

At this moment in Malawi we have people who are being investigated in the so called “coup plot”. Their crime is that they, after the death of the former president, sat down to discuss whether the presidency should go to Joyce Banda or somebody else. Their critics allege that since the constitution was clear they should not even have convened meetings to discuss such issues.

Is it not, therefore, an irony that the president and her government are going around in circles on an issue that is as clear as crystal? Section 65 is much more clear that the section that talks about succession of the president in case of a vice president from another party. If the ‘coup plotters’ are guilty for simply considering to get somebody else to succeed the former president, what does that make the president who has decided that her government will not honor Section 65 because she would rather use the money for something else? Is the constitution only important when it comes to succession of the president?

When we signed up for democracy in 1994, we did so knowing fully well that democracy is much more expensive than dictatorship. Malawi is a country that is guided by laws. No president, speaker or cabinet has authority to suspend the constitution.

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