Part 2: Focus on insecurity, high cost of living and a tone-deaf cabinet in Joyce Banda’s Malawi

Denial syndrome reborn:

This week has seen the second coming of the one and only, the incorruptible peoples’ champion, the inimitable John Kapito – the main man who refused to compromise with his appointing authority on human rights.

Kapito, in his direct manner, has charged that;

“Everywhere in the world, government’s main responsibility is to [mitigate] the economic and social challenges that their people face and so far the current administration has failed to live up [to the mark] and be relied upon.”

For any and many rational Malawians, this bodes well because it means that vintage Kapito is back at what he does best: speaking for the voiceless.

President Banda

Now, flip the coin and take a look at the State House response:

“We know Kapito was chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission for several years until mid-this year. He may be bitter that he was not re-appointed when a new commission was reinstituted. If that is the case, then he is missing the point.”

This, in as far as Kapito is concerned, is hogwash. Such Grade “A” trash shouldn’t emanate from the state house.

Kapito was chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission by virtue of being appointed by Bingu wa Mutharika. Yet, unlike others, it never stopped him from criticizing government and standing up for the right thing.  Therefore, how anyone can today brand his criticism as bitterness beats me. Was it “bitterness” with his appointment that was driving him to criticize the then president who had appointed him Chair of the Malawi Human Rights Commission?

Does anyone see sense in Steve Nhlane’s insinuation? Obviously Nhlane is the one missing the point, and by a wide margin too.  I will go further and dare say that missing the point or the “Ndasi Effect” equally applies to any journo that blindly parrots the state house’s piece of slander  – without looking at Kapito’s heroic history.

If this is the inaugural voyage of the People’s Party onto the sea of denial, let the Nhlanes know that such a voyage is a very risky venture. It is a journey towards insensitivity. If PP lets this denial creep in and thrive in its rank and file, very soon the public will be singing a different song. By the way, how long has it been? Three, four or five months? It’s much too soon.

The abracadabra Indaba:

Echoing and validating Kapito’s accusation on the inability to listen by government was MCTU secretary general Robert Mkwezalamba.

He was recently in the news saying that his union was the first to propose an all-inclusive stakeholders forum to discuss the plight of parastatals and that the proposal had, like in the biblical parable of the sower, fallen on stone. Verbatim, Mkwezalamba said:“Unfortunately, government has not seen the reasoning and failed to take advantage of this initiative as they have chickened out and remained non-responsive to this meeting.

“ As a result, we have told Ministry of Labour…that we are standing down and will only watch how they will resolve the over 20 strikes…Our attention will simply focus on addressing the plight of the workers with the view to encourage them to follow procedures and only engage in legal strikes until government gets to start thinking big.”

While the minister responsible acknowledged the MCTU proposal, she claimed it never immediately came to her attention. The question is: If the MCTU’s proposal on a labour-related issue fails to attract the Labour Minister’s attention, what will?

With this attitude the strikes will take root and become the norm, and I can bet that soon we will be told that it’s the DPP that is fomenting them.

The devaluation factor:

To be fair on the PP, there was no humanly way of going around devaluation. But having said that, and having decided to devalue, several things should have been done differently.Personally, I fully concur with John Kapito’s assertion that the strikes are a result of poor management of the devaluation.

I will go further and add that the hopelessness of the situation is fueling crime. It doesn’t matter who is sponsoring it. The fact is that the government, by failing to stabilize the economy, is providing a climate that is conducive to crime.

The 80% increase in perks:

To rub salt in the wounds of a nation suffering a major devaluation-sans-cushion, there’s the matter of the 80% increase in ministerial perks, coming in a time of austerity ( http://www.mwnation.com/national-news-the-nation/8759-cabinet-gets-80-subsistence-hike”) .  The massive hike is, as far as government is concerned, meant to enable ministers’ travel “comfortably” while the rest of Malawians are tightening belts as a result of an austerity budget.

Any manager worth his salt knows that when faced with challenging budgets the first thing to reduce is non-essential travel.

Ministerial expeditions, which have never really saved a life like an ambulance travelling from Nambuma to KCH would, are in my opinion non-essential. Travel budgets and allowances should’ve been slashed.

The 80% increase and the miserable defence for this decadent extravagance was therefore, without mincing words, an insult to Malawians.

Do I have suggestions? Yes, galore

If I were to wind up without offering alternatives, I would be gifting apologists a quota to attack me for criticising without offering solutions.

It’s not that we need a magic wand at all, common sense and political will is enough to address most of the challenges.

Issue No. 1: Lack of Experience:

The President, with due respect, has little or no experience in running government. Running government business is radically different from running an organization like NABW.

Unfortunately, instead of mitigating this inexperience by utilizing technocrats, she has settled for politicians – and the worst of the lot to surround her.

The result is that like Bakili Muluzi, and like Bingu wa Mutharika in his second term, she is busy managing a political empire at the expense of national priorities and the masses.

Politicking, which was making sense way back in April and when she was in the wilderness, no longer makes sense to:

a)    the underpaid worker – who has no option but to strike for better wages to feed his family in the face of the rising cost of living; and

b)    the unemployed youths – who are resorting to criminality, driven by the sheer need to survive and feed their families.

My advice to President Joyce Banda: Rethink your priorities.

Issue No. 2: Mismanaging an austerity budget:

Austerity measures should begin at the very top. There is no justification whatsoever for increasing ministerial allowances when everyone else is being requested to tighten their belts.

My advice to president Joyce Banda: Reverse that unfortunate decision and take me to task  if any minister quits. On the contrary, they will clap hands and praise you for your wisdom and pragmatism.

Issue No. 3: Reactionary policies

This is, without a doubt, a hangover from the days President Banda spent in the wilderness. With due respect (again) she never had to think through her decisions nor to strategize on issues non-political at a grand level. Therefore what she needs around her is a team that can help her in this regard and not self-seeking advisors with a praise-choir orientation.

Advice: Replace any advisor that has failed to prove their worth; four months in a two-year term is long enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Issue No 4: Some donors, e.g. Germans, continue to withhold support

Donor goodwill has been betrayed by among others the Lipenga saga, the National Audit Office mess, the costly retributive firings, the handling of the subsidy fertilizer tender and reneging on the rushed promise to repeal gay laws.

In Germany, France, the UK or wherever, a minister caught red-handed lying wouldn’t be shielded by the leader. You goofed – big time – on Lipenga.

On the management of the fertilizer tender, from outsiders’ perspective, Government seems to only have intervened when Ahmed Master’s Nyiombo Investments – a ranking donor of the People’s Party – was about to be left with 80,000 tonnes of fertilizer on his hands without a market.

According to sources close to the powers that be, the whole cancellation was a sham designed to the steep the floor in favour of Nyiombo Investments, the supplier with 80,000 tonnes of prepositioned fertilizer. If this sort of blatant corruption goes unchecked, Malawians will again pay the price of shady leadership.

The good thing is, such filth never go unnoticed by donors, therefore even more aid will be withheld to force the masses will have to vote wisely in 2014.

On the rushed promise to repeal gay laws “immediately”, donors especially the Germans, feel that they have been taken for a ride. “Immediately” has evolved into indefinitely and worse, some ministers are openly making statements against the president’s position.

The truth about the gay laws is that the president failed to take into account the fact that very soon (2014) there will be elections and depending on how she is perceived by different interest groups (mainly church and traditional leaders) she could face an uphill task.

Advice: First think through policy statements before speaking. And, be resolute in dealing with mismanagement of resources and corruption – both past and present.   Instituting audits to investigate all the dirty deals that took place before change of leadership would also help.

Again, ( http://www.mwnation.com/national-news-the-nation/9745-jb-threatens-to-shame-state-coffers-looters) threats to name and shame aren’t presidential and sound like cheap blackmail, when rumours are rife that very important persons have benefitted from the likes of Ahmed in the award of the current fertilizer tender.

Conclusion: Adios honeymoon

The honeymoon is over; it is time to stop playing to the gallery, time to mark time on politicking and stop aiming  cheap. Madame President should start thinking big and acting differently.

Most importantly, the president must ensure every tambala is used for intended purposes, economically, efficiently and effectively and accounted for.   And by the way, my dearest president’s press officer Steve Nhlane should respond to issues raised. Personalising the issue like was done with John Kapito was uncalled for.

*For apart one click here: http://www.nyasatimes.com/malawi/2012/09/05/focus-on-insecurity-high-cost-of-living-and-a-tone-deaf-cabinet-in-joyce-bandas-malawi/

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