By Precious Nihorowa
On 27th June this year, the Tonse Alliance was officially ushered into government after the swearing in of the leader of the Tonse alliance who is also the current state president, Dr Lazarus Chakwera together with his vice, Dr Saulos Chilima. Their victory was a result of the famous 23rd June elections whose history is traced to the nullification of last year’s presidential polls that was said to have been marred with irregularities.
As of now, the alliance has spent just about ten days in office. It is quite a short time indeed. But within these ten days, many things have taken place. Having come from a background of a government that lost the trust of many Malawians because of many missteps that the Democratic Progressive Party led government took, the people have been in a mood of hope following what the Tonse alliance had been promising during campaigns. The anxiousness to vote and listen to such message of hope was seen by how people braved the corona virus pandemic to gather for political rallies as well as turn up for the polls.
Since the Tonse alliance entered office, many Malawians have been anxious to see how what they promised would be fulfilled with critics arguing that the promises were more idealistic than realistic and could as well be the mere political gimmick and rhetoric that we are used to. As if that was a prophetic statement, just ten days in office there are subtle signs that are pointing towards that claim. Of course, the alliance has been in office for only few days and it would be unfair to pass a judgement on them at this stage as perhaps the new office bearers have not settled down. It would be very realistic of us to expect chaos for now as the new government maps out their way forward. However, the little that has been done can shape the kind of trust that people could have in the new government. In the same vein any missteps can cost the trust that people have in the government.
When the president announced the list of the four new ministers and other key government positions, just two days later, Mr Modercai Msiska, who was appointed the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, turned down the appointment arguing that it would appear to the public that he is being rewarded for successfully defending the Malawi Congress Party in court during the election case. Msiska also cited that he was old and wanted to offer the opportunity to young people full of energy that are equally capable to deliver in the ministry.
This raised questions as to whether the president and his vice never consulted Mr Msiska before making his appointment a public issue. Secondly, Msiska’s argument about the post being mistaken for a reward was actually valid. It seemed a very wrong timing to appoint both Dr Chikosa Silungwe and Mr Msiska to such crucial positions of Attorney General and Minister of Justice respectively as this was tantamount to an automatic misinterpretation by the public. Whether these were appointed on merit or not, the president should have exercised caution over public opinion on the same. The president also made mention that the full cabinet would be announced before the Independence Day celebrations. But up to now, Malawians are yet to know the full cabinet list. The sad thing is that there is no explanation to this silence or change of program.
When the Minister of Finance was presenting the provisional budget in Parliament, he included some of the things that were promised during the campaigns. However, instead of offering universal fertilizer subsidy as promised before, it was only offered to 3.5 million people on coupons saying the universal one would be implemented in the full budget.
Furthermore, there was no clear roadmap on the creation of one million jobs as promised in the manifesto. To the surprise of many, during that Independence Day speech, the president signalled that the promise did not literally mean that the government would provide one million jobs but rather challenge everybody to be a job creator rather than a job seeker, yet another change of tune. During his speech, the president also did not mention anything about empowering the vice president and making him a deputy president as he had been promising. Am not sure whether that was just a slip of thought as he was writing his speech. We hope it will be corrected later and announced and implemented at the right time. The recent issue is about the tax-free bracket up to K100,000 to be received by those who receive a salary. The Ministry of Finance made an announcement that the policy will be implemented after three months when the parliament reconvenes to make the necessary Taxation Act amendments.
While the list can go on and on, the Tonse alliance government should be aware that people are watching and they still remember what they were promised. Malawians can no longer be taken for a ride. Any attempt to play with their minds may soon backfire. I don’t understand why the Minister of Finance failed to make it clear during the budget presentation that the tax exemption would not apply immediately. At least people would be aware, rather than creating false hopes. Or why did they not immediately make a provision to make the needed amendment to the Taxation Act before adjourning the parliament session? And why did the president repeatedly say they would announce the full cabinet before Independence Day and yet they were aware that there were still some things that needed to be concluded? Why was it not stated clearly during the campaigns that people would simply be empowered to create their own jobs? And what about the sudden change of tune on the cancellation of the Independence Day celebrations? Whatever justifications people may give on all these, it should be known that these missteps, no matter how little and insignificant they might look, could end up costing the people’s trust in the new government. It is our hope that the dust will soon settle and the government will go back to serious business. Otherwise, for now people are still waiting to see how the trimming of the presidential powers will be materialized, how women will be accommodated in the cabinet basing on the 40% inclusion that was promised, how the final budget will accommodate the promises that were made and how the new government will correct the errors of the previous government, such as corruption and nepotism, that they condemned when they were in opposition. Otherwise, while rhetoric is a powerful tool to woe voters, too much of false promises always equally backfire.
The writer is a Malawian and holds a BA in Philosophy. He is currently studying Theology at the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya. He writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org