Written by Mapwiya Muulupale
Facts being to the mind what food is to the body (Edmund Burke), I will start with facts.
Justice Dr Chifundo Kachale’s extraordinary leadership in managing the 23 June 2020 Fresh Presidential Election raised our flag high.
To evidence this, the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the Electoral Commission Forum of SADC Countries (ECF-SADC) invited Malawi in August 2020 to school others.
“Be extraordinary in your excellence if you like but be ordinary in your display of it”. Justice Dr Kachale probably lives by this motto credited to Baltasar Gracián.
Let me recap: after the Constitutional Court order of the 3 February 2020 nullified the 21 May 2019 Presidential election, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal on the 8 May 2020; Malawi held fresh Presidential elections.
A new Commission appointed on 7 June 2020 and chaired by Justice Dr Kachale delivered the goods on 23 June 2020. By any standard, this was a feat of extraordinary proportions.
Let me give you the complete perspective: managing the polling phase of elections is the ultimate nightmare. It involves moving people, delicate material, e.g. ballot papers, equipment and having these delivered on time in exact quantities to 5,002 polling centres located in every nook and cranny in Malawi.
This is half the story.
Tenacity, precision, transparency, proactiveness and the prescience to anticipate challenges and mitigate them before they derail the process are mandatory. Justice Dr Kachale, despite inheriting an unsavory Secretariat, more than demonstrated possession of these qualities.
Ditching Murphy’s law i.e. ”If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong” for Yhprum’s law, i.e. “everything that can work, will work”, he produced a clean final tally with all the its crossed and is dotted that no one has contested in court.
The bonus? Budget-wise, MEC even had some “change”!
When Jean de La Bruyère posited: “from time to time there appear on the face of the earth men of rare and consummate excellence who dazzle us by their virtue and whose outstanding qualities shed a stupendous light”; he might have been thinking of Justice Dr Kachale.
And lo and behold, from an obscure small country famous only for overpopulation, dire poverty, and corruption; thanks to Justice Dr Kachale, Malawi now holds the Election Management gold standard.
Fast forward to 5 November 2020, President Lazarus Chakwera ordered the Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB) to re-administer before the end of January 2021, the cancelled 2020 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.
MANEB, in collaboration with Ministry of Education, cancelled the examinations following massive leakage and rescheduled them to March 2021.
According to now suspended MANEB Executive Director Gerald Chiunda, MANEB – then under his watch – is 100% to blame.
You see the contrast between MANEB and MEC? One, an exemplary shining star and the other, a total abomination!
Now, having one shining star in MEC’s Justice Dr Kachale on the one hand and a bumbling MANEB Executive Director on the other is sort of okay. After all, the billions wasted by MANEB’s Gerald Chiunda are somewhat compensated by the savings made by MEC’s Justice Dr Kachale.
Lady luck, unfortunately, does not seem to be on our side.
As if Joseph Joubert had us in mind when saying “mediocrity is excellence in the eyes of the mediocre”; the specter of mediocrity has struck again.
Let me bring you up to speed.
”Logistical hitches”, whatever that means, have left about 3.9 million farming households with no access to low-cost inputs under the Tonse Alliance administration’s flagship MKK160 billion Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).
For these households, the promise of three meals a day is morphing into a prospect of hunger, every day and night.
Three weeks after President Lazarus Chakwera launched the programme with pomp at Pirimiti in Zomba and despite assurances, the Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe told journalists that only 294 000 or seven per cent of the 4.2 million targeted beneficiaries have accessed the low-cost fertilizer being redeemed at K4 950 per 50 kilograms (kg) and hybrid seeds.
As if to emphasize the fact that Lowe does not belong to Justice Dr Kachale’s league of excellence and typical of the proverbial bad carpenter blaming his tools, Lowe had a catalogue of excuses justifying his exposing Malawians to hunger.
Having found convenient scapegoats for his leadership failure, Lowe charged: “We want to warn suppliers that if they do not meet requirements in the agreement, we will terminate their contracts.”
• How did these suppliers get contracts in the first place?
• Who vetted and authorised the contracts?
• Do the contracts have penalties for non-performance? Why aren’t you meting out the penalties?
Furthermore, notwithstanding the adage blood is thicker than water, according to Chakwera, his own home village, Malembo, is one of the many missing from the AIP database.
Lowe’s ineptitude sees no boundaries; even his own in-laws at Malembo are not being spared!
Now, what do we make of this? Why is Lowe, of all critical campaign promises, compromising the AIP without which we will not enjoy three square meals a day?
If truth be told, Lowe has joined the Minister of Education in successfully auditioning for profiles of Chakwera’s first ministers to be sacked.
The point is: subsidy programmes are not new. The Ministry of Agriculture has a wealth of experience in what works and what does not and hence roll out the AIP should be a walk in the park.
Secondly, as per the MEC example, a leader worth the name should – at a minimum – inspire their charges to defy Murphy’s law and not only deliver; but deliver with excellence.
Conversely, like the MANEB case, when failure happens, those on top should accept that they have goofed and vacate their positions or be fired.
At the end of the day, the buck stops at the appointing authority’s door. Chakwera has two choices: replace all incompetents with competent people to deliver his manifesto promises, or appease the incompetents and relations, at his own peril.
Lest Chakwera forget, mediocrity is excellence in the eyes of the mediocre.
To conclude, I do not think Chakwera lacks the requisite strength, no. He lacks the will to make tough decisions, and this is why and how he is proving to be all talk but no trouser.