As long as Malawi’s governance framework remains as it is, consolidating powers in the executive and the presidency while emasculating the other arms of government, Malawians will continue living under the delusionary hope that the solution to Malawi’s problems will be the ascending to the presidency of an individual who will have a messiah-like character, put national interests above his own, and rescue the nation from the mire.
Such a hope, obviously a naïve one to us “uncommon sensers”, is an easy option for those greedy backers who promote politicians to power knowing that they will eventually benefit personally from the success of such a promotion. It is also an almost guaranteed certainty to them that they will be rewarded beyond their investments because the country’s political and governance framework has made it so. Such riches, though, are ill-gotten, gained at the expense of the provision of steady, reliable electricity to the poorest in the country, the provision of effective healthcare services, and educational system that actually is a path to a batter life.
After almost 25 years of a multiparty democracy where parliament is supposed to provide checks and balances to the executive, what we have witnessed is a total subordination, with the executive railroading all decisions without any accountability, unscrupulously and with total disregard to whatever opinions prevail in parliament or in the political opposition.
This is not something that has happened because we have had dictators and autocrats in the state house. It is not even so because we do not have some well-meaning parliamentarians that do want to hold government to account. This is a status quo created by a defective governance framework: the country’s constitution.
It is the result of this flaw in the framework that we have always had leaders that promise everything and do nothing, and leaders that can say anything and do anything without any censure of any kind on their decisions and activities. We have at the moment, for instance, a president who flip-flops on policy and decision making to the extent that one always wonders whether he is himself in charge of these decisions, or he is simply listening to anyone who has an opinion, and leading the country on that basis. One opinion after another offered to him means one decision after another made and given to Malawians as the decisions and policies of his leadership.
To bring all this theorising home, I must give some examples.
Consider the George Chaponda Maizegate scandal. The evidence of flip-flopping was there for all to see. It took three weeks of relentless pressure for Peter Mutharika to finally fire his beloved George Chaponda, and this was after his flip-flopping had given Chaponda wings by declaring in public speeches that the Maizegate issue was false, and that there was no malfeasance.
Flip was when the president took the lead in protecting Chaponda and claiming that he was innocent.
Flop was when he decided to fire him, against his own declarations of the man’s innocence.
I must remind us of the questions I raised at the time, for a quick recap. If Chaponda was a bad apple worthy of being thrown out of cabinet, when did this Chaponda apple go bad? Why was he not fired at the outset when the issue was in everyone’s mouth? Why was the president not just silent but even opening his mouth to protect and back him, only to fire him when the going got tough? And why was he not arrested?
The answer is simple. Indecisiveness. Flip-flopping.
Fast-forward to this week, and the flip-flopping remains evident. It should not be a surprise really, as I have already pointed out that this will remain the case as long as the governance framework remains as it is.
An executive decision to create a MK5000 denominational note has been rescinded apparently because the public disapproval was too strong. Now some might say that is a good thing because it demonstrates that the executive is listening to the populace. I tend to disagree with that reasoning, however, because the decision was first made without popular input. Additionally, there are many decisions that have received popular disapproval to which the executive has rendered nothing but a deaf ear.
What this retreat from creating a K5000 note denotes is very clear. Indecisiveness. Flip-flopping.
The examples are many.
Now, readers of this column, some with common sense and even others with uncommon sense like mine have often criticised me of always attacking Peter Mutharika and his government without suggesting any solutions as to how he can govern better. I thought it should have been obvious that when a mother is telling a kid that playing in the mud is a bad thing to do, then she is also directly telling the kid to play on dry ground, and NOT to play in the mud.
Nevertheless, in recent days, I have taken this on board in a more serious manner and I am going to endeavour always to offer more obvious suggestions for solutions.
What lies ahead for Malawi, if we do not make a nationally concerted effort to re-define the parameters within which our leaders, especially the executive, operate is a vicious cycle. We will continue to go to the electoral ballot every five years and vote in a new president and his team of MPs, some of whom become cabinet ministers, with hope and expectation, only to be stymied by a constitution and a governance framework that corrupts them all and allows them to loot and plunder at our expense. Then we will take to social media and to columns like this one and start talking up new prospective leaders with hope for the next election, only for the cycle to be repeated again and again.
Meanwhile, no real change in the governance framework will also mean no real development, and no improvement in the economy. Electricity blackouts will remain and continue. Healthcare service delivery will continue to fail and the poor will get poorer as the economy collapses and the cost of living escalates.
There is no better evidence of a country in collapse as when you see the president backing a program to provide electricity to a whole country using diesel generators, and when parliament has no power to demand that the president solves the electricity problem with sustainable means!
What MUST lie ahead for Malawi, in order to arrest this cycle of failed politics and failed development is a vigilant determination to change the way we are governed. We cannot continue to place our faith in the good intentions of individuals and the hope that they will be good-hearted enough to use a flawed governance system not to enrich themselves but to serve all Malawians. This is naivety of the most serious order. Our faith needs to be places in a failsafe governance system and framework that makes it impossible of for the most rogue president to abuse it for self-enrichment.
First we must create the right framework to deal with political autocrats, looters, cashgaters and flip-floppers. Only after we have overhauled the current framework and put in place a constitution and a governance framework that we can rely on, can we then look to elections and the good character and good intentions of individuals as a means for saving this country.