Talking Blues: One step forward, two steps backwards and Xtra

“Success is brought by continued labour and continued watchfulness. We must struggle on, not for one moment hesitate, nor take one backward step.” – William Jennings Bryan US Secretary of State 1860 – 1925

The phrase “one step forward, two steps backwards” originates from an anecdote about a frog trying to scale a water well. The frog keeps trying to climb up the wall of the well, but for every two steps it climbs, it falls back by one step, making its progress arduous.

With time, the phrase evolved to a sarcastic ‘one step forward, two steps back…’, denoting a situation where an attempt to progress is followed by counterproductive endeavours negating progress made.

Some attribute this sarcastic alteration to Vladimir Lenin, who used it as his 1904 revolutionary pamphlet’s title.

Recalling President Lazarus Chakwera’s stated commitment to enable oversight institutions to deliver unimpeded, Chakwera seems to have caught the one-step- forward-two-steps back variant.

Where do I begin?

While Chakwera was basking in the glory of successfully securing Parliament’s confirmation for Madame Martha Chizuma as Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director-General, through his Minister of Finance, he was setting Madam Chizuma up to fail.

This week, those who hailed Madame Chizuma’s appointment as an omen for the beginning of the end for corruption were shocked to learn that Treasury has allocated K3.9 billion to the ACB against its proposed K4.6 billion; hence a deficit of K647 million or 14 per cent.

Let’s put things into full perspective here. First, Chakwera does the needful by appointing the no-nonsense Chizuma as ACB DG, raising hopes that the ACB, hitherto a toothless bulldog, might begin to bite. Then subtly trims the ACB’s budget, which will adversely affect both the reach of the ACB’s fangs and its ability to bite.

• What does this tell us?

• Is Chakwera serious about fighting corruption?

Even if we wanted to give Chakwera the benefit of the doubt, how do we explain why and how he is happy to boost our graft-fighting capacity at the leadership level only to deny the new leadership the wherewithal with which to bite?

Let me digress a bit.

Do you remember Pres Chakwera’s Sixth National Address on the War on Covid-19 delivered on 14 February 2021?

Reeling from guilt and embarrassment over the squander of MK6.2 billion under his watch, Chakwera issued some directives and informed the nation that the National Audit Office (NAO) was conducting a “full forensic audit”.

That audit was duly completed, the report published, and police went about arresting some of those fingered.

However, on 24 January, Chakwera had released an additional MK17.52 billion to fight the second wave of the virus. This MK17.52 billion has not been audited and will likely not be audited anytime soon.

As per the Acting Auditor General Thomas Makiwa speaking to the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) of Parliament, his office has no ready funds to conduct audits for the K5.1 billion and K17.5 billion Covid funds released late 2020 and early 2021.

There are two takeaways from this. First, another oversight institution is being denied the wherewithal to monitor and uncover potential public resources mismanagement.

The second is the “Acting” preceding Mr Thomas Makiwa’s title. Close to a year now, Pres Chakwera is yet to move and appoint an Auditor General.

Now, if there is one person who knows that leadership matters, it is Pres Chakwera. If he didn’t believe that leadership matters, he would have let former Malawi leader Peter Mutharika continue governing; not so?

Hence, Chakwera knows that leadership is everything.

One wonders why he thinks the National Audit Office (NAO) is an exception.

The first point is that the NAO, like the ACB, was leaderless before Madam Chizuma’s appointment. So it has someone in an acting capacity. The second point is that with the NAO failing to conduct audits for the K22.6 billion Covid funds due to lack of funds, vis-à-vis the ACB’s allocation for 2021/22 Fiscal Year, Chakwera and his folks haven’t learned a thing.

Of what use are these institutions without funds to conduct their operations? Who wins when these institutions operate leaderless for long spells? NOCMA and the goings-on on the fuel tender is a case authority of what happens when a caretaker runs an institution.

Anyway, all this takes us right back to the questions I raised earlier:

• What does this tell us?

• Is Chakwera serious about fighting corruption?

Do you know what I think?

Without effective governance institutions that are well funded and well-led, Chakwera’s presidency will add to the pile of inconsequential leaders we have had since 1994.

This is not a big deal for him because he will still walk away with his pension and other retirement perks.

But what about the poor folk who were promised the moon during the campaign? The youths still waiting for 1,000,000 jobs? The students still learning in grass huts? Our dilapidated referral hospitals? Our ill-equipped district hospitals? Our crumbling infrastructure nationwide?

How will history judge us? Why are we happy to take two steps back for each step forward?

Till when?

As for President Chakwera, his work is cut out. The effectiveness or lack thereof of Malawi’s Governance Institutions will make or break his legacy.


Talking Blues Xtra

By the way, this week I had an informative debate-cum-chat with a colleague on two issues: the long-overdue Cabinet reshuffle and the so-called “Chilima Report”.

This colleague, better placed than I am, confided a few things I am not authorised to announce; they will be revealed or announced by the authorities in their own time.

Let me ask you a question: am I the only one who tunes in to listen to the State House Press Briefings, the whole hour, and save for the Presidential Diary, gets nothing?

From our debate, the public frustration boils down to one thing: poor communication.

Among other basics, the State House Communications team needs to familiarise itself with government procedures, protocols and how these eat time.

For example, their responses on the Chilima Report need not trigger further debate or invoke “prerogative” because such policy propositions must go through due process e.g.

1. Intra-ministerial consultations,
2. Intergovernmental consultation,
3. Discussions with the drafting experts,
4. Alignment to reality,
5. Review /Adoption of actionable recommendations,
6. Implementation and public dissemination.

Unpacked like this, the State House Communications team can have an easier time explaining – in the spirit of transparency – where the process is, when that process will be completed, and what would happen next.

No one would start debates which, if truth be told, the Team handles very badly.

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Ali Palimandi
2 years ago

Last time i visited Thekerani Trading Centre everything was normal. Traders going about their business – kanyenya, frying irish potatoes, bananas, sweet small tangerines, second hand clothes and youngsters enjoying Chinese films. No-one noticed my presence.

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