Timau: Change the document, it is not working!

The current Constitution of Malawi provisionally came into force on 18 May, 1994 after Parliament passed the Republic of Malawi (Constitution) Act, 1994 (Act No. 20 of 1994) repealing the Constitution of 1966 and bringing into force the new (1994) Constitution.

Critics are saying that this constitution contains numerous errors and needs revisiting. Like a dentist meeting with a prospective patient, the good doctor sees all sorts of ways the patient’s teeth could be vastly improved by removal of cigarette stains for example. For instance, they argue that this constitution gives too much power to the President. So much so that he/she, can appoint anybody to senior positions without interviews or background checks, but at the same time handicaps himself/herself as he/she is unable to fire his/her vice Talk nothing of the infamous section 65. Can we right this anomaly in our constitution? Yes we can!

The Constitution can be amended by a two thirds majority of the house of Assembly, but the amendment of its substance can be done only through a referendum. If done in parliament a proposed amendment would give MPs an excuse to put off serious legislative action but that means antagonising voters who would have to endure unwelcome sacrifices. This is why critics say that it needs an overhaul of the entire document.

This hazy constitution states that, “the First Vice-President shall be elected concurrently with the President and the name of a candidate for the First Vice President shall appear on the same ballot paper as that of the Presidential candidate who nominated him or her”.

However, this proviso does not stir up Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Ralph Kasambara who was recently quoted in the media as having said that “during elections people should be electing a President and the President should appoint his/her deputy and be able to fire them if something goes wrong”.

What has gone a miss?

As a matter of clarity, this is what is happening.

The vice President of Malawi is the holder of a public office created by the Malawi constitution. The vice President, together with the President of Malawi is elected by the people to a five year term of office. The President has got no powers to remove the vice President even if they fallout or he/she is incompetent. In the event of the latter, the nation is the loser as treasury has to keep paying salaries and privileges to a deputy who is sitting at home.

Now, Kasambara is saying that instead of the tax payer losing out, let us revisit the constitution and let the President hire and fire his/her vice. This has met with some resistance. In his article entitled, “The document is working, don’t change it” produced in the Nyasa Times edition of June 19, 2012, Cedrick Ngalande has qualms over the Justice Minister’s astuteness on the issue and raises the following questions;

Why does Mr. Kasambara believe that having a President fire the vice President would be better for the country?

What is it that did not work properly in the past that will be corrected if the President is now able to fire the Vice President?

At the start, we the Timau Crew are for Ralph Kasambara’s proposition and not your counteract Cedrick.

To answer your first question, human relationships do not work with two centers of power. There has to be a structure of command and in exchange this structure should give one person ultimate power to discharge his/her duties assiduously. The other side of this executive authority is that the final responsibility of failure (or success) rests with the Chief executive, in this case the President.

A President will work much comfortably with people he/she has put in power.

Malawi is probably the only country the whole of East and Central Africa where we follow this rather perplexing procedure. The idea of having the two elected together assumes an unchanging relationship of cordiality and mutual respect between two individuals. This is a fallacy as we know that human relationships are in a constant state of change.

In case of a falling out, you will not want to be the President Mr Cedrick as you will find yourself boxed into a corner , but we will forgive you if you live abroad for your second question. It is vague and does not seem to come from a Malawian.

We do not have to repeat what went on between Justin Malewezi and former President Bakili Muluzi and then Cassim Chilumpha and Joyce Banda with Bingu wa Mutharika. The position of vice President was rendered totally useless. The tax payer lost out paying salaries and benefits for many years to people who were doing nothing just because the President did not have executive powers to fire them.

If you talk to the people that have traversed nearly every nook and cranny in the country researching on the topic, they have a fascinating view of the President and the Vice President debacle and also the obstacles that each has to overcome to find greatness.

Cedrick, after all, Kasambara might be right if we listen to him carefully.

A constitution is expected to bring significant changes to the people but has the Malawi constitution done so?

Amending the state constitution is, and should be, a relatively arduous process but we want this one changed because it is making Malawians see no difference between the one party regime and now the much talked about multiparty democracy. There are some natty gritty things of interest in the document that can be seen but the rest is the same old music. Too much power to the President, the constitution not helping the poor, girl child still vulnerable and not ably protected, the youth marginalised, its all but the same old 1964 jazz.

Nevertheless, this damned constitution has served its positive parts over time. Some of the goodies out of it are self-evident; Her Excellency Joyce Banda is  in power because of the document and our nation is stronger and progressive despite the escalating prices of goods in shops and our notorious mosquitoes.

Having said this, we have no kind words for this document which is marginalising the majority poor and we want it changed. It is not working.

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