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Wither austerity?

If a problem is fixable,

then there is no need to worry;

If it’s not fixable,

then there is no help in worrying

Dalai Lama

 I find President Peter Mutharika quite an interesting character. He seems to know what he has to do and says – albeit inaudibly – all the right things at the right time. It must be his long years as a university don.

Ok, ok, forgive him for his yester years’ misadventures as a government minister. He flunked his time at Justice (those crazy laws empowering ministers to ban publications at their whim), made a cartoon of himself at Education (failed to give leadership during the eight-month academic freedom saga) and completely lost it at Foreign Affairs (failed to advise big brother that it was suicidal to expel Her Majesty’s top diplomat).

But, hey, he had an eccentric brother at the helm; it was not his time.

His time is now. But then he still seems, for some reason, to be clueless how to implement his otherwise lofty ideas.

Take, for instance, his vow not to sack public officers on political grounds and check the village of officers he has sacked even before he clocked a hundred days in office.

He also vowed his will be a ‘business unusual’ administration, but whatever policy action he takes makes you remember the oft abused saying, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

Peter did well to make good his vow to keep his Cabinet dogs to a manageable 20. But look at what the old dude did? He cancelled all the benefits from that lean Cabinet when he roped in a village of advisers and pseudo advisers.

Add to that his gullibility to choose to work with the very crowns that confused and misled his big brother.

The President also vowed to implement austerity measures in the affairs of government. He vowed not to attend international conferences where benefits to the country were negligible. For example, Peter did not attend the African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

But, of course, he had to fly to Washington to attend Barack Obama’s picnic with African leaders. Which African leader can miss the opportunity to be in the same room with the first ‘African’ leader of the free world?

Indeed, of course, he had to attend the SADC summit in Victoria Falls because he had inherited the chairmanship from Joyce Banda and it could have been an insult to send a proxy to hand it over to big man Mugabe at Mosi o’Tunya.

And, again, I cannot fault Peter for attending his first United Nations summit in New York. He has to announce his arrival on the world stage.

But did he have to fly to the Big Apple a week before the summit with a bloated entourage in tow? And I am told he will be away for a good 25 days. Whatever for?

And this is the guy who told us he will not go on a honeymoon after his hasty betrothal to Hendrina Gertrude because he wanted to save government money. What is he going to do in the US for 25 days when he is only needed on the lectern for only 15 minutes to address the world? How much money will we lose to keep our president and his hangers-on for a good month in the US? Where is the austerity in such wastefulness?

And did you see the village of ministers and government officials who saw him off to the US on that Sunday? Ok, it is our tradition for whole government machinery to close shop to see off one guy who is going out on a scheduled trip.

But, hey, Peter Mutharika told us his would be a ‘business unusual’ way of doing business. Could he not have left quietly without all the needless pomp and ceremony? How much money in drivers and security officers’ allowances do the ministers and government officials blow in such useless junkets?

Ok, his apologists will tell the Muckraker that ‘but Bakili, Bingu, Joyce had all this pomp and ceremony’. True that. But this guy vowed not to be as ordinary as Atcheya, Mose and Ama for crying out loud!

Talking about his international junkets, we faulted Ama for globe-trotting on chartered jets, be they hired by well-wishers or otherwise. But here was our ‘business unusual’ Peter having the audacity of telling us that he had to charter a jet from Mosi o’Tunya because he could not afford to endure a seven-hour wait for a connecting flight to Lilongwe at OR Airport!

Some of us still have the hope that Peter Mutharika just might be that transformational leader Malawi has been seeking for for the last 50 years. Kamuzu tried and failed in some areas; Bakili, too, tried to take us to the Promised Land but stumbled along the way; Bingu started well but lost it when his ego got the better of him; Ama failed to get the clue when fate gifted her two years to lord over us.

We thought Peter may be the anointed one. But while his brother allowed us a breather of five years before he showed us how ordinary he was, Peter has managed to show us he is as ordinary as they come in less than 100 days.

Are we cursed as a nation that we cannot get a leader who cannot show us the middle finger for the simple crime that we elected them?


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