President Peter Mutharika clocks 100 days in office next week.I engaged political analyst Dr. Boniface Dulani to discuss the performance of the President and other issues.
Q: How would you describe President Peter Mutharika’s leadership in his first 100 days in office?
A: It has become clear that President Peter Mutharika has a different style of leadership from his predecessor, Joyce Banda. Unlike Banda, Mutharika is more of an introvert and shuns the public limelight. In some ways, Peter Mutharika comes across as a man of less words and more action. He is in an individual who is obviously very loyal to his late brother, Bingu Wa Mutharika. This is evident from the fact that Peter has been promising to fulfil a number of the projects that were initiated or promised by his brother. It is also fair to say that in terms of his approach to work, the President comes across as a man of few words and a slow decision maker, although his supporters would claim this shows he is deliberative and not hasty. But as time passes, deliberation might be interpreted as procrastination and indecisiveness.
Q: Like other parties, DPP has a manifesto which has a lot of promises, are you impressed with the pace taken and do you think they will fulfill all their promises?
A: DPP promised an ambitious agenda in their manifesto. Some of the key highlights included: a promise to double exports within five years; introducing health insurance for all public servants; food security for all Malawians; repairing and upgrading old school buildings, construction of community colleges in all districts, introduction of a subsidy on cement and iron sheets; development of mini-taxis to ease transportation and create jobs; passage of a law preventing members of Parliament from increasing their own salaries and benefits. The manifesto also promised that the DPP administration would ensure that appointments and dismissals of key public office holders, including the Reserve bank governor, director of the ACB, Auditor General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Director of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, among others, would only be done through a special Public Appointments Committee.
It is too early perhaps to judge the government’s ability to deliver on most of these promises after only 100 days in office. From the list, DPP has at least lived up to their commitment to have a lean cabinet of 20. We have also seen government taking the first steps towards fulfilling the promise of civil service reform. While there is still time for some of the promises to be delivered, there have also been signs that DPP might already be backtracking on some of their manifesto promises. Not only have we heard through the media that members of Parliament have already agreed to hike their remuneration, but Cabinet ministers are also proposing to follow suit, which would negate any perceived benefits from having a small Cabinet. Contrary to the manifesto promise to institute a special Public Appointments Committee, the President himself has removed several senior public officials. Of course, this is nothing new, as parties often promise the moon during elections but find that the reality of governing is different.
Q: The President took over the mantle with a message of wisdom, saying, he is leading a new DPP, have we seen a manifestation of these words?
A: As much as the president wants to be seen as different and leading a new DPP, the reality is he cannot completely distance himself from the shadow of his late brother and the old DPP. The fact that Peter Mutharika is championing a similar agenda to that advanced by his late brother makes it difficult for him to convince the masses that he is leading a different party. Indeed, research findings from the Afro barometer survey that was conducted just prior to the May 20 elections shows that most people who said they would vote for Peter Mutharika were looking forward to a continuation of the agenda of the late Bingu Wa Mutharika and his DPP brand. If the younger Mutharika tries too hard to distance himself from the old DPP, he risks alienating himself from those who supported his candidature in the recent elections. No wonder, he has brought back some of the leading figures in the old DPP.
Q: There have been high expectations from the President on many issues. Looking at his performance, do you think he is poised to meet people’s expectations in these and other areas?
: It is always very difficult for any leader to live up to people’s expectations and deliver on all campaign promises. Most of us ordinary citizens look at the Office of President as both powerful and easy. The reality is it is not. Election candidates the world over always promise a lot during election campaigns, but once in State House, the pressure of being responsible for millions of people with a limited purse forces them to reevaluate their priorities. This might even involve dropping some pet projects that one had before assuming office. Try as he might to meet people’s expectations, I don’t think the President will satisfy all his supporters, let alone his detractors. And this is not because he will not try, but rather, it is just not possible to please everyone.
Q: If you were to point out the lows and highs in his leadership in the 100 days, what noteworthy issues has the President done thus far?
A: Obviously, Obviously, the high includes Mutharika’s victory. When we look back to 2012, not many people would have given Peter a chance. In fact, perhaps his brother’s death might have done Peter’s presidential chances a big favour in that it allowed for Joyce Banda to step in on an interim basis. The 2014 elections thus ended up being a referendum on Joyce Banda’s two years in office when they could easily have been a protest vote against Bingu Wa Mutharika’s egoistical leadership style. If the older Mutharika were still alive, Peter would have had very little chances of winning the 2014 elections. Thus far, Peter has shunned the public limelight, and his most notable decision to date has been choosing a small Cabinet of 20.The decision to kick-start the civil service reform process, including the order preventing public servants and Cabinet ministers from attending presidential functions, if sustained, will also be among his other highs. On the other hand, the slow pace of decisio making, the President’s failure to prevent parliamentarians from voting for themselves hefty salary and loan increases, as well as the recent proposal from Cabinet ministers to raise their salary packages several hundred fold, might come back to haunt him.
Q: What pressing issues should the president priorities?
A: Against a background of the uncertainty of budget support from donors, the President need to seriously think of ways to increase domestic tax revenue without suffocating the existing small tax base. Should identify ways of growing the economy by reviving industrial productivity and meaningful job creation as ways of creating new sources of tax. The government also needs to take a serious look at the fertilizer subsidy programme.