With only a few months before the country’s next general elections (May 2014), some Malawian artists have frustration written all over their faces. They believe current Members of Parliament (MPs) who belong to the art world are the biggest time wasters.
Reason? “The MPs never advance artists’ cause when they are in the august House. These are the people who should understand local artists’ plight better,” so goes the discourse.
Piracy has reached its pinnacle in the absence of a reviewed Copyright Act while the National Arts and Culture Policy, which should have enabled artists in Malawi to sing a new song of hope, continues to collect dust on somebody’s desk, at least that’s a general perception in the local arts industry.
But the concerned MPs argue that Parliament business is a different ball game altogether; hence, misconceptions about their lack of commitment to fight for fellow artists should be avoided.
Renowned musician and Mzimba West MP Billy Kaunda says critics should not rush to conclude that the legislators are not doing enough lobbing on behalf of artists.
Kaunda argues that in parliamentary parlance, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts because many players are involved in changing a policy or in reviewing legislation.
“This is not supposed to be a one-man show. For instance, the review of the Copyright Act would involve Cosoma [the Copyright Society of Malawi], the Law Commission, Cabinet, through the Ministry of Justice, and Parliament’s Legal Affair Committee before it is discussed in the House. So, it is not only Billy Kaunda or Joseph Tembo who can speak on the matter. It needs several players,” says the musician-cum-politician.
Legislators owe their allegiance to constituents who ushered them into power and as MP for Blantyre Kabula Felix Njawala notes, they have to know which side of their bread is buttered.
“One has to strike a balance between your job as an MP who represents interests of constituents and that of promoting a national agenda. We normally have little time to advance constituents’ interests. If I have a critical issue such as lack of a hospital in my area, it would be difficult to start pushing for a bill on piracy when I have not presented it in the House,” argues Njawala, who started promoting music talent through his E-Wallet platform way back before he became an MP.
Njawala says it doesn’t need musician legislators such as Chikhwawa Nkombezi’s Tembo or Dowa East’s Bauleni Mannah to shout themselves hoarse in the House for them to be taken seriously.
“People cannot propagate for the arts every day. We can only advocate as we do not implement policy. It is government, through its various departments, that implements policies. All we are saying is that if artists have an issue, they should come forward and we can present it as a private member motion,” says Njawala.
Zembani Band leader and former Balaka North legislator Soldier Lucius Banda, however, thinks MPs who cannot fight for artists are “totally out of order.”
“An MP who has art at heart should be able to stand in Parliament and comment on budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Culture, for instance, complaining that the allocation is not enough and that artists are struggling; talking about lack of subvention to Cosoma,” says Soldier.
The musician believes the MPs voice of reason gets drowned in a regular din of “as many as are of that opinion say aye? Or those of the contrary say No?” to which they respond as they seem fit.
“You hardly hear the MPs speaking on any issue in the House. Even if you check Hansards of previous sittings, you will not see anywhere where the MPs spoke on artists. But they can every Thursday stand on a private member motion to present issues. I was in the House for two years and I know what I am talking about,” he says.
Perhaps Soldier should have been as passionate in defending artists when he was an MP as he is now.
But talking of private member motions, Kaunda laments that it takes ages for one’s efforts to bear fruit through that channel.
“I moved a motion on the Legal Education and Legal Practice Act when I was MP for Blantyre City South East, but it passed when Professor Peter Mutharika was minister of Justice. People have so many expectations on MPs,” he argues.
Great expectations make frustrated men, as they say, but the legislators and the artists should not push the blame. Everybody should play their part.