Let us be frank here: JB has perfected the art of handouts from the days of Bakili Muluzi. Bakili was known for splashing out money to people in the streets. He loved doing it, at one point asking all shoppers at PTC store in Blantyre to grab everything they would, causing quite a scare to the shop as everything was swept and Muluzi had to pay a bill in millions which he didn’t expect.
Muluzi also sponsored Bullets soccer team , of course calling it Bakili Bullets. It was to do with buying supporters to his UDF-and when you sponsor a team like Bullets, your arithmetic is that hundreds of soccer fans will vote for you.
Muluzi did many things to woo the voters, including what JB is doing today—getting two trucks of maize to accompany the president to development rallies and share the product to hungry villagers who have picked in advance to receive the gift.
JB is doing what Muluzi did not—she is distributing the maize herself, symbolically touching the bag before it is passed on by helpers and other officials.
By now, she must have distributed thousands of bags and worth millions to the villagers.
What about the houses she is building for poor people through Mudzi Transformation Trust? Cows are being given to people to empower them? What do you call this? Alms or simply this one is a nice president who has the heart for the poor?
I beg to differ. I would call this rigging because the beneficiaries cannot vote for anybody else apart from JB. It might seem it’s a simple logic, but wherever JB picked up this plan, you can only say this is a politician who does not sleep and is determined to stay in state house.
It will work, it works because there are thousands of other Malawians who wish they were beneficiaries and may see JB as the only presidential aspirant who has her heart for them.
Thanks to her incumbency, JB is able to do this because she has an open cheque—taxpayers money is being spent without anybody questioning it. Because she is president, when she travels, the whole state machinery also moves with her.
The opposition is also meek. It does not question these things. If I were a presidential candidate, I would have rushed to the high court to stop this distribution of freebies.
It is the way four running mates from the so called “big parties” were picked for a debate, leaving out the other eight smaller parties. So, in the minds of Malawians, it was as if only the four parties were in contention.
If I were an owner of a party—how small it might be or whether it’s a briefcase one—I would have rushed to the courts to stop the debate for running mates.
Though coming late, I can applaud the Malawi Human Rights Commission for suing JB over maize handouts.
The commission is asking the court to stop her distributing public maize during campaign rallies, arguing that what she has been doing is “illegal, unconstitutional and unreasonable.”
The Commission, which is funded by the state, wants the court to declare that the decision by the president to deem and treat the maize received from foreign states and well-wishers like personal or party property places her in a position of interest and duty conflict and it constitutes a breach of fiduciary duties as outlined in the constitution.
The constitution stipulates that the state should introduce measures which will guarantee accountability, transparency, personal integrity and financial probity to strengthen confidence in public institutions.
In what I find to be a fearless stance, the commission wants the courts to declare that the decision of JB to distribute maize at political or development rallies violates the right to equality of opportunities in access to food, the right to human dignity and the right to information.
It does not stop here: MHRC wants the president to disclose sources of the maize, the amount and criteria used for distribution, arguing that hiding of this information is contrary is contrary to transparency and accountability requirements and the right to information.
As we all know JB, she has obviously thrown this to the wind as she has vowed never to stop her exercise as this was assistance to the needy. She actually says this is her manifesto—helping poor people.
But mark my words: call it handouts, but this rigging at its best. When JB wins, it will be surely because those who received something from her and benefitted will never forget her when they enter that important booth on May 20.
And what did MCP presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera say the other day: Some leaders in Malawi had created a country of people who rely on handouts. They don’t want to see people who are independent economically.
Chakwera added: No country in the world has ever developed because of handouts or sympathy from other countries or donors.
So, what is the solution to end handouts in future? Meanwhile, handouts will propel JB to a fresh mandate. Poor Malawi!