Even though the noise surrounding the electoral reforms bill is unwarranted and its prioritisation in Parliament ill-advised, the bottom line and the upshot of the shenanigans in and outside parliament surrounding this issue demonstrate that as a nation, our parliament is useless, and that the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), as a leader in speaking on social concerns and good governance, has totally lost touch with what is really important to Malawians at this time of our national history.
As I have persistently said in the past, the shambolic and selfish manner in which our parliamentarians approach their responsibility to represent the interests of Malawians in serious matters often demonstrates a parliament more mindful of where its next MK200, 000 will come from and not the interests of Malawians at all. Perhaps it is already time to declare that this is a parliament unfit to represent Malawians, and a parliament that Malawians do not want and must get rid of in the coming elections. The problems, though, is that voting in new parliamentarians, whether using a first past the post method or the 50+1 method, will not address the issue. The real problem here is not the individual parliamentarians. The incapacity of the Malawian parliament is a result of a bad governance framework that emasculates parliament as an institution and makes it too subjective to the executive. As long as this travesty is not corrected, our parliament will remain an expensive impotent organ of government.
Still, having said that, it should still be underlined that as a moral principle, parliamentarians need always to remember that they hold their positions in trust on behalf of the people, and that it is the interests of the people of Malawi that should be their prime and supreme concern. They are not in parliament to fill their own bellies or to complete their heretofore-unfinished house projects.
When the people of Malawi are concerned with the leadership of the country, the activities of their president and the ruling party, corruption and the MK577 billion cashgate, and the passing of an electoral reforms bill, for instance, they look to their parliamentary representatives to provide the needed leadership or at least have the balls and the mettle to do the necessary and the needful.
Instead of rising up against MPs for their failure to implement our wishes, though, I insist that we need to look to our governance framework for solutions.
Malawi is country that still desperately needs all the help it can get to ensure that voters who elect these leaders are not susceptible to manipulation due to poverty of the mind, of the tummy and of the pocket!
Malawi is currently ranked among the top ten poorest countries in the world. About 55 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line of less than a $1 a day.
There are many economic indicators and statistics that expose Malawi as an awfully vulnerable country whose governance is being severely compromised by extreme poverty.
These conditions clearly affect the selection of leaders, whether for parliamentary representation, or for the executive leadership itself, that can change the status quo for the better in Malawi. A population that is largely formed by uneducated, less empowered and less independent households remains highly susceptible to manipulation.
This is what makes the electoral process in Malawi one of the most corruption-littered activities. Leaders are voted into office not for their ideas and policies but more for how much they offer materially to the voters.
Considering the fact that the largest voting block in Malawi is made of the poverty-vulnerable group, the likelihood of having wrong leaders in office, who just buy their way, is beyond any level of doubt.
The popular disapproval of what parliamentarians have done over the electoral reforms bill is actually more of an exception than the rule as in Malawi, politics follows a football fanatic mentality, where support is supposed to be guaranteed, unwavering and aggressive regardless of whether one’s team is winning or losing, playing well or just utterly hopeless. All political parties in the country have failed to entrench intra-party democracy. Decisions follow a top-bottom approach. Supporters are not the key stakeholders of the parties. They are largely merely hand clappers and cheer-troupes! In other words, what voters want, in the final analysis, does not really matter.
And because many parties are still suffering from the founder or funder syndrome, where the leader who founds or funds the party is seen as almost omniscient, subtle dictatorships are entrenched with the leader imposing his preferences and choices on the people.
It is tragic that this is the mentality that is filtering through from the executive side of government to parliament. The greed that we are accustomed to seeing in the executive has found its way to the people’s elected representatives, and self-centeredness has taken over. Parliamentarians are putting self-enrichment before the people, demanding that salaries and money for their pockets be the first priorities of debate in the house.
The complexity of the problems is also evident in the way matters are prioritised.
At a time when the country is desperately in need of true leadership to captain the country through severe economic storm and tempest, to solve electricity blackouts and shortages of medicine in hospitals, the popular political debate is one about an electoral reforms bill that will in no way affect the manner in which the country is governed. And to makes things worse, even that bill, whose importance is certainly dubious, is a subject of corrupt and selfish politicking that only further demonstrates the disconnection between parliament and the voters whom it is supposed to represent.
Thus Malawians are caught in a raw deal that places them between a rock and a hard place. When the people are looking to president Mutharika and the executive for national governing solutions, they find only corruption, cluelessness, self-centred spending, failure of legitimate prioritisation and a leader that is nothing but a party puppet.
When they turn to parliament hoping that perhaps will provide the desperately missing leadership, they find only parliamentarians too intimidated to take a stand on bringing the presidency and the executive to account, too self-serving to have any real principles on important social issues, and too greedy to place national interests before self-enrichment.
If ever there was a time for true patriots to make a stand and claim a stake in providing true leadership for this nation, that time is now. If that kind of transformational leader stands up, I will stand with him or her. Make no mistake about it!