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.
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :