Should Malawians get used to executive contradictions and gaffes again?

 “Oh, God, why don’t I remember that a little chaos is good for the soul?” Marilyn French.

 It is not fair to blame the new government for the chaos, the rushed statements of policy and subsequent contradictory statements that have pervaded Malawi in the last couple of months.

It is after all a new government, trying to get into gear and should therefore be given leeway to blunder and experiment.

But even that being the case, no-one can be faulted either for suggesting or even contending that some of the chaos we are witnessing is avoidable and completely unnecessary.

Before risking accusations of being unpatriotic, I have to quickly make my point.  And to make myself clear, I have to make a good case and prove my hypothesis, so to speak. However before I get to do all this, a brief recap will help us get to the genesis of the chaos.

Lipenga: Played the role of a parrot?

It is important to remember that under the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, late president Bingu wa Mutharika was supposed to govern until May 2014.  Unfortunately and very sadly for Malawi, death occurred.

This, as with most deaths, caught everyone unawares. For Malawi it was a tragedy of unprecedented proportions since no-one had really been groomed to take over at short notice, save for a hopeless young brother whom the late, hoodwinked by gold-diggers, was baby-sitting.

And anyways, Malawi is not and has never been a monarchy where succession is determined by blood. There is a constitution that deals with issues to do with succession and as a result, the hopelessly good-for-nothing brother, if he had succeeded in doing anything, it would have been deemed unconstitutional.

Now, to further explain the dilemma in the context of the current president who was constitutionally the number one after the late in line, in March 2012; reacting to a Public Affairs Committee (PAC) Conference call on the then president to resign for “mismanaging the economy”; offered more or less nothing – I repeat nothing – to demonstrate  readiness to assume leadership before 2014.

Now before a month was over, fate determined that she take over. And in the interlude, nothing exceptional had happened to prepare her for the momentous job. Therefore the current chaos and, in a sense the déjà vu sweeping over Malawi, are not surprising.

They are a direct result of the comfort that everyone was deriving from constitutional order and from the assumption that everyone would live to the end of their terms of office. And now this has brought about a problem.

The problem is that the scenario can be used as a scapegoat for sitting “phwii”, accepting that chaos and mediocrity is inevitable and hence we should do nothing about it. And avoiding this sitting “phwii” is the essence of this very long write-up. Therefore, brace yourself.

One can sit “phwii” thinking that after all, as Marilyn French pointed out; a little chaos is good for the soul. Therefore why bother? And this is exactly where I beg to differ, hence my exploring the subject in depth and daring as usual to call a spade by its name wherever and whenever necessary.

The chaos haunting Malawi can broadly be classified into two groups:

  • chaos inherited from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and
  • chaos – in word and in deed – solely attributable to the Peoples Party (PP) government.

Between the two, there is a grey area; and we will look at all these elements in detail.

The inherited chaos:

The economy was in shambles years even before the infamous zero deficit budget. However, the economic mismanagement alleged by PAC, has now taken on a new meaning with recent revelations of very high-level and massive window-dressing attempts.

The window-addressing was aided and abetted (innocently he says) by the still prevailing Minister of Finance Dr. Ken Lipenga.

According to him, something that the new president surprisingly seems to have fallen for; sexing up the performance of failed zero deficit budget was concocted without his knowledge by officials in his ministry, without his blessings and facilitated by the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA).

His role, according to Dr. Ken Lipenga, was just that of a parrot. To repeat without questioning, the gibberish he was fed by Mwanamvekha and his team of crooked directors at the Ministry of Finance.

More gory details are emerging. According to latest reports, even the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA)  had a hand in this unethical, deceitful and despicable venture.

This scandal has had a spill-over effect. Without referring to destroyed and tainted reputations; to date, the budget for the 2012/13 Fiscal Year is yet to be finalised. Many senstitive accounts – no doubt – have had to be reconciled again, reviewed, and hopefully put in good order.

All these processes need and consume time. And therefore, the delay of the finalization of the budget and the general economic chaos surrounding deliberate bloating of Government Revenues to hide a deficit cannot, in all fairness be blamed on the new government.

What the new government cannot escape however, is its dilly-dallying in giving the boot to all tainted officials at the MRA, the MERA, the Reserve Bank of Malawi, the Ministry of Finance and the Minister of Finance himself – to set an example and set the record straight that this sort of behaviour has no place in Malawi.

The tolerance and wavering manner in which this grave affair has been and is being handled by the new president, is raising serious questions on her very integrity and that of the new government.

People are asking: has one goat merely begat another?

Indeed, has a goat begat a goat?

One Steve Martin observed that “chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.” And this takes us to the second dimension of our discussion.

As we speak, there are at least three commissions of enquiry as follows:

  1. One for Robert Chasowa (RIP),
  2. Another one to get to the bottom of the death of late president Bingu wa Mutharika (RIP) and for subsequent events including the night of long knives , and
  3. A third centering on Dr. Lipenga’s innocence or complicity in the MRA saga.

This means we have three presidential commissioned enquiries in about two months, which is quite a record.

Maybe coming out of chaos as Malawi is, it is fine to constitute enquiries to explain several mysteries. But what is worrisome is that, the new government seems to have borrowed a leaf from the previous government.

Nothing concrete, from the new government, has been heard on:

  1. the concluding meeting and way-forward of the CSO/ Presidential Committee on Dialogue;
  2. specific actions on the way forward following the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC)’s investigation into the July 20th deaths  – a report of which was finalised and submitted; and
  3. the high-powered Lipenga/MRA investigation which was supposed to last a week – at most.

Is this the beginning of chaos in the midst of the new order?

The fact is: there does not seem to be much sense or any wisdom in commissioning more commissions before the findings of previous commissions have been publicised; and no-one can be blamed for speculating if they wish nor for demanding the outcomes of the enquiries.

While PP apologists could attack the preceding questions, and this demand for transparency as a usual Malawian display of impatience, they should not forget that Malawians were promised that the Lipenga/ MRA enquiry would be completed in seven days. And a promise is a credit that must be delivered on time.

Alternatively, the government should stop hiding behind commissions of enquiry when it is desirous of protecting certain individuals and if it too wants to thrive on lies, half-truths and falsehoods. These commissions, which consume resources and raise expectations that it appears are difficult to satisfy, do very little to address the underlying problem which to put in black and white has been mediocre leadership.

Are we going down this road again? All the above, as I said earlier, was inherited. Therefore, let us assume that the current government is clean, means business and will not dissappoint.

PP chaos – in word:

Coming home now, a good starting point is the minor gaffe that preceded thedevaluation. Come to think of it, one would hope that it was the last of its nature.

Malawi’s new President Joyce Banda, already in the Guinness Book of Records for her historical ascendancy to the presidency, underlined her presence in that very book by being the first president to announce a major devaluation.

Of course, somehow, the Malawi media, as the media in Malawi is want to do with any new presidency, decided not build a mountain out of this particular mole. It is no wonder therefore that no scribe in Malawi has disputed the great Ambuje Tom Likambale’s assertion that the media in Malawi suffers from a “herd mentality.”

Time, according to our gallant media, will come for that and when that time arrives, the same media will hound any new, willing and handy prey even unto and after death.

And then there is this sticky issue of human rights and minority rights (on which am still doing comprehensive research on, for discussion another day).

Even after shelving the substance of this controversial debate for another day, a few high level and telling inconsistencies have already emerged.

Extracting – verbatim – from the State of the Nation address of May 18, 2012; the president said:

In the 2012/2013 fiscal year, we will continue with the law reform programme and finalize review of the laws that I have just referred to. Some laws which were duly passed by this august House and were referred back to the Malawi Law Commission will be repealed, as a matter of urgency, and these include:

•             the provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts contained in sections 137A and 153 – 156 of the Penal Code;

Speaking following the report of a misrepresented ‘lesbian engagement’ that has since earned one scribe a criminal trial, Ralph Kasambara, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General had this to say:

Right now the two women will not be arrested or prosecuted, the reason is that the law under which they could have been arrested and consequently prosecuted is under review,” said Kasambara adding:

“As you might be aware President Joyce Banda, during his State of the Nation Address, stated that this piece of legislation which deals with minority rights, together with other laws, will be presented to parliament for review.

Missing from Ralph Kasambara’s statement was “as a matter of urgency.”

And now came the leader of government in Malawi parliament Henry Phoya. He weighed in and announced that the controversial law that restricts homosexuality is not part of business in the current sitting.

In our meeting this time round we don’t have any business on same sex marriages and you can cross check with our time table. If you ask me about what the president said, then the message was that she would like to see these laws reviewed some time in future,” Phoya said.

Now if anyone was in doubt, this sharp and direct contradiction of President Joyce Banda’s statement that the law will be repealed “as a matter of urgency” should settle it.

And we are not yet done.

The final twist, and now in a complete about turn from “the immediate repeal”, the president according to Steve Nhlane (Presidential Press Secretary), merely wants to initiate debate and it will be Malawians through their parliamentarians who will make the final decision.

Who is fooling who? Three or more possible answers to this one.

  • Could it be that President Joyce Banda used the State of the Nation address to score cheap marks with the likes of Andrew Mitchell (UK), the EU’s Alexander Baum and the US all of whom congratulated her for being “brave” and taking “bold actions” when in fact there was nothing tangible on the ground?
  • Or is it that both Henry Phoya and our brother of the pen, Steve Nhlane understand “as a matter of urgency” differently?
  • Or is it that when London beats any drum, Malawi will dance first, ask questions later and then make an about turn?

Enough of the Peoples Party’ verbal inconsistencies on minority rights or whatever. As I said, keep watching this space for a deeper analysis of this minority rights issue in the near future but for now, let’s move on.

PP chaos in deed: Dismissals and the Jet (that we don’t want to sell)

At least three botched dismissals or near-dismissals or re-assignments were and are proving to be a thorn in the People’s Party government’s flesh.

Perks Ligoya, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, was first.  Contrary to earlier media reports, he was NOT fired. A couple of days later he was given the chop, and then a few days later, he was posted to New Delhi. Sort of reminds one of wachiwona ndani?

Perks’ luck does not seem to have overflown to Alex Nampota and Matilda Katopola. According to the Nation, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director Alex Nampota is wrestling for his job and contract with the Government which is keen to see him “resign from his post”.

Where all this will lead us to, no-one knows. But one thing is for sure, someone botched on Alex Nampota’s dismissal and till this day Nampota continues to draw a salary as an ACB Director – a job he failed – miserably – to deliver on.

Another senior government official in a similar predicament, as if she workskwa mmwenye, is Matilda Katopola, the Clerk of Parliament.

Are these people still in the government’s employ or not? Which is which? Whichever the case, long leave of absence or whatever technical phase they have been put on, they continue drawing salaries.

Anyone wants my free advice? Either fire them, or give them space to work and earn the tax-payers money. They cannot have both. Full stop.

And now we come to the luxurious presidential jet that we do not want to part with. According to Andrew Mitchell (again) the presidential jet and fleet of 60 Mercedes limousines will be sold in a move he might have prematurely applauded as an example to other African leaders.

Why prematurely? Hear this: a few days later, Finance Minister Ken Lipenga comes on the scene and on what to do with Malawi’s controversial presidential jet, he says;

No decision has been made yet,” reacting to reports in the British media that President Joyce Banda has decided to sell the jet. “We are looking at several options at how best to move forward.

Now did the Malawi president lie to Andrew Mitchell? Or was Andrew Mitchell under the influence of something hence his inaccurate reporting on return home?

And we are far from done. Come the next international excursion, the president uses the jet for one leg, dumps it in Joburg and then flies, presumably on a commercial liner for the rest of the journey.

Can someone tell us what is happening please? Your excellency Madam President, can you and your Cabinet tell us one thing: do you want to keep the jet or sell it?

We are used to foolish decisions, so we will live with anything but for Chris sakes’ stop this carnival!

Conclusion:

To wrap up, chaos is said to have existed even before mankind. And even way back in ancient times Buddha is said to have remarked that “chaos is inherent in all compounded things.

This perhaps makes confusion and the subsequent inconsistencies difficult to avoid in a venture as complicated as running a government. It does not mean however that chaos should be entertained to the level of making us international laughing stocks.

On top of that, the new government should know that running a government is serious business. Each time the president or the ministers open their mouths; people receive and interpret whatever spews out as a policy or as an intention to expound policy.

And policy is not only the steering wheel that directs government business and direction; it is the mechanism that defines the parameters in which development partners come in to help.

Most importantly, at the local level, policy directs the actions of the Civil Service (who actually do the donkey work); the private sector (which is the main player in national wealth creation) and inevitably affects the lives of poor Malawians.

Policy statements should therefore be made after serious thought and demonstrable consultations so that inconsistencies, at least at cabinet level, should not arise.

And by the way, if we must fire people, let us fire them quickly. There is no worse torture as living in suspense, not knowing whether or not, you have a job or should be heading to the nearest labour office.

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