Welcoming the New Year

It is 2018 and it is quite appropriate that I wish you a happy new year. So, happy new year to you.

Now that that is out of the way, let us look back at the past year and celebrate it (or not) for what it was: another year of failures in governance and democratic accountability. Let me indulge you in a couple of choice highlights (lowlights?). Abuse of resources from parastatal organisations is a recurrent theme in our short history and it reared its disgusting head in 2017 with reports that a significant number of parastatals had made gifts to the ruling DPP. Neither the government nor the DPP have moved to address the issue perhaps in the hope that Malawians will soon forget. And they may just be right. We Malawians tend to forgive and forget rather too quickly.

Then there was that incident where an important honourable person engineered the procurement of maize that, as it turned out, we did not even need. Right from the start, my President hesitated from firing the allegedly honourable person from cabinet and had to be forced by court action brought by civil society organisations to do so. The president’s explanation has been that our Constitution presumes everyone innocent even after a Presidential Commission of Inquiry no less has established that the person acted corruptly or with corrupt intent. I am saddened that my President is quite comfortable serving alongside those tainted with the stench of corruption and for whom our constitutional standards of accountability are mere suggestions and not rules to live by. What does the failure to ask the erstwhile honourable person to step aside from government and party positions say to those who may be contemplating another similarly corrupt misprocurement scheme? Is it mere coincidence that shortly after these events some government bigshot decided to spend 64 million Kwacha on office furniture and bypass normal procurement procedures? Of course, it is not a coincidence. Rapacious individuals have realised that the Constitution presumes them innocent. After all, my President says so.

Another thing we enjoyed in the year were the unending power cuts. One can only imagine what the impact of these power shortages have been on our economy. One could not help but get annoyed at the platitudes from government relating to investment in the energy sector and photo-op board meetings that delivered no results. The state of our energy sector is but a sad caricature of the direction that our Nation has taken over the last couple of years: so much talk about fairy generators and not much electricity produced. There is a distinct lack of a grand vision for key sectors of our lives including the economy, education, health, arts and others. Ask yourself these question: What are the highlights of the DPP’s programme for this parliamentary term? How many of those highlights have been delivered since we are now well into the fourth year of that term? Remember, the good book says that where there is no vision, people perish.

We ended the year on a particular low when Parliament refused to endorse the recommendations of our Law Commission to increase the threshold of the vote by which someone could become president and for changes to allow time to sort legal complaints before someone was sworn in as president. The farcical vote in Parliament only took place after PAC threatened nationwide demonstrations to force the issue. The episode reminded me of a story where a team captain whose popularity was challenged acquiesced to a vote but shortly before the vote could be held, burnt down the club dressing room. If you were a member of the team, would you not wonder why the captain worked so hard to thwart the vote? (By the way, this story did not happen. It is a parable.) The measures introduced by our Law Commission were meant to entrench more accountability in the manner we chose our presidents and in the way powers are transferred and our parliamentarians thought that this was not important enough. The manner in which the whole absurd process was deliberately frustrated by government including changing the bill recommended by the Law Commission served to remind us that we are still very far from a system where power is exercised on trust as the Constitution expects.

Now, you may ask, why go over these failures once more? I think it is important that we rehash these events. For history often portends what is likely to happen in the future. The DPP will not suddenly change into a choir of accountability harnessing angels doing right by our Constitution; my president will not suddenly demand that individuals tarnished by the stench of corruption be relieved of their political roles in the DPP presidency; our prosecution agencies will not suddenly move against politicians who forced parastatals to hand over cash gifts; and there certainly will not be an immaculate emergence of a grand programme for our key sectors. In fact the opposite will likely happen because many of the individuals who benefit from the lack of accountability in our institutions have nothing to fear but only columns like this as opposed to columns of no-nonsense anti-corruption officers. So expect more of the same.

That said, I still welcome you to the New Year with optimism, not because we will see major changes in the way we are governed, no; but because this year brings us closer to the time when those politicians who let corrupt officials thrive under their watch; and those politicians who bought expensive chairs when there were no medicines in our hospitals; and those who voted down crucial electoral reforms in the full knowledge that Malawians demanded those reforms;  will come to us, asking us for our votes. So this is actually a good year because it brings us closer to the time we get to sift the chaff.

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