In general, the State House Press Secretary is a senior State House official whose primary responsibility is to act as spokesman for the Malawi government administration, especially with regard to the President, senior executives, and policies.
Modelled on the similar office in the USA government system, the Press Secretary is responsible for collecting information about actions and events within the president’s administration and issues the administration’s reactions to various developments. The Press Secretary interacts with the media, and deals with the press frequently, usually through press briefings.
The Press Secretary is supposed to serve by the appointment of and at the pleasure of the President; the office does not require the advice and approval of parliament, and it is supposed to be the president himself that makes the appointment.
Last Saturday, the compelling Brian Banda of Times TV had an interview with State House Press secretary Gerald Viola and the following are probably the five main things that we learned from that interview:
1. Brian Banda has still got it
Love him or loathe him, Brian Banda still represents the kind of interviewing that seems to be something Malawians long for. He has received a lot of criticism for making his interviews more about him than about his guests, but that not withstanding, he manages to get information from people that most people fail to get and he knows how to focus his questioning on the issues that Malawians want to hear most. That is the hallmark of good interviewing. Give the people what they want.
2. Mutharika is not in charge
According to Gerald Viola, appointments have been made at the State House, for senior government positions and they have not been made by the president, although the country is made to believe that the president made those appointments. In explaining why the position of press secretary has already been occupied by three people in a period of about a year, Gerald Viola said this was because the president did not make those appointments, but that senior presidential aides and the Chief Secretary are the ones driving the country and telling the president whom to appoint and what to do about certain matters. It goes to vindicate what I said almost a year ago, when I declared that on the evidence and the information I had, we had a puppet government.
3. Ministers are more powerful than the president
After the Interview, Information Minister Jappie Mhango rushed to release a midnight press statement disowning Gerald Viola’s remarks, especially those regarding revelations that the president intends to purchase a private jet when the country’s economy picks up, and that the president is not in charge of appointments in his own administration. What the minister in his rushed statement failed to recognise is that in releasing that press statement, and in countering statements made by the president’s spokesperson, he was actually underlining the confusion that is rife in this administration.
Logically, it is the press secretary, not the information minister, who has a better understanding and a closer pulse on the thinking of the president and his intentions and ideas. A minister countering something spoken by the president himself (through his press secretary) is a demonstration of the very thing that he is trying to dispel- the fact that the ministers in this administration believe they have more power than the president.
4. The Mutharika administration has its priorities mixed up
A spokesperson to the president cannot just wake one day and start telling the nation that his boss, the president, has an intention to buy a private jet, wants to buy a private jet, but is being stymied in this endeavour because of the bankruptcy of the economy. Those who believe the fire-fighting antics of minister Jappie Mhango need to have their heads examined. We know from the same minister’s own statements before this, and from president’s earlier outbursts about how he would prefer to travel around the world- statements that have been supported, even praised strongly by the DPP praise team.
The truth of the matter is that President Mutharika believes his travel comfort is more important than putting drugs in hospitals or paying salaries for teachers and nurses. After all, since he was already a millionaire before he became president, we wouldn’t expect him to want to leave the presidency less well off. Thus if he was a millionaire who was not travelling by private jet before, he wants to take a step up and me a jet-trotting millionaire at the expense of poor Malawians now.
5. Reform, like Charity must begin at home, but that home certainly is not the State House
Clearly that interview has underlined the need for transparency in the way our president’s conduct their affairs. The remarkable contradiction between the president (through his spokesperson) and his own Minister of Information demonstrates that the two are not on the same page, that there is no information streamlining and that there is information that the press secretary has which the minister does not have, and vice versa. It is a demonstration of the betrayal of the very spirit of reform touted by an administration that came to power shouting Reform! Reform!
Interestingly, stories on social media on Sunday night seemed to indicate that Mzati Nkolokosa had already been chosen as the successor to Gerald Viola, who is apparently in line to get sacked, not by the president, but by Dr Bright Mollande and Ben Phiri. If this is true, then it goes only to further vindicate those that speak of a nothing but a puppet administration with no vision for the country, and certainly no ideas that can REFORM AND TRANSFORM the country.