Last week, I began assessing how Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is performing in the area of governance based on the promises they made in their 2014 manifesto. He continues this week.
The DPP’s grand vision did not deviate much from the one Bingu wa Mutharika started in 2004. It is just an extension.
It reads: “Our collective vision is to see our country transformed from being a predominantly importing and consuming country to a predominantly producing and exporting country; and a food self-sufficient country where hunger is eliminated, and our agricultural primary commodities, other raw materials and minerals transformed, in the process creating jobs and new wealth for our people.”
However, DPP—noting that the vision is hardly attainable without good governance—made many promises that stopped at changing how government is run in the country. The idea, as enshrined in their manifesto, is to run government “business unusual”.
But what were some of these promises and, one year on, how are they faring? We continue from last week.
6.Implementing Constitutional review recommendations
Between 2006 and 2007, Malawians from various groupings met in Lilongwe to review the current Constitution. The meeting was premised on the realisation that the current Constitution has various anomalies that hamper entrenchment of the country’s democracy.
During the meeting, delegates came up with recommendations that outlined the changes that should be effected into the Constitution.
However, since then, the recommendations are yet to get into the Constitution. Experts have singled out lack of political will by previous governments as the main reason for failure.
The DPP government—noting the importance of the recommendations not just to their governance goals but also to the nation at large—promised that, once elected, they will pass and implement the recommendations from the constitutional review. They even added that they will, mostly, facilitate implementation of revised Section 65 (Crossing the Floor automatically) and bring back the revised Section 64 (recall provision with proper safeguards to prevent abuse) of our Constitution. It was a grand promise.
However, one year in office, there has not been any movement on their promise to pass and implement recommendations from the 2006/2007 constitutional reviews. No debates, no reminders, no renewed commitments—just emptiness almost.
Perhaps, as President Peter Mutharika has always said, they still have four years to go. Hence, as it is with other virgin promises, the next four years will be quite interesting to see if the DPP will, indeed, live the promise.
- Nationalising development projects
Chancellor College development policy specialist Blessings Chinsinga has always singled out the failure for Malawi to have a national development plan that every party should follow as one of major reasons behind country’s failure to develop.
“There is a strong spirit with parties in power to personalise national development projects—to the extent that when one person leaves office, all the initiated projects are abandoned,” he said.
In their manifesto, however, DPP came out clear, concurring with Chinsinga’s perspectives.
They clearly, in the document, abhorred the tendency to personalise development projects and activities in the country.
“We are concerned that national priorities keep being changed by whatever leadership that comes to power. When a party in government or president changes, projects are discontinued, as evidenced in the Nsanje Inland Port, the Malawi University of Science and Technology, the Presidential Hotel among others,” reads their manifesto launched in February last year.
As such, the party promised that it will establish a National Security Council with statutory powers to guide long-term national decision making and determination of government actions for national interests, the well-being of our people and institutions, and our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
One year on, not much has happened on the ground with regards to establishment of the National Security Council. However, in the Public Service Reform document, the party made reference to the matter. The party, as party of nationalising projects, recommended that the Vision 2020, being a long-term development plan derived after very wide consultations, should be relaunched by the President so that it provides a basis for national development plans until a successor plan is put in place.
On the National Security Council, the party advanced that it should be established so that it helps to develop a long-term development plan to succeed Vision 2020. The party, in the reform document, adds that the council will develop a new National Vision which will be legislated to make it legally binding, and avoid the tendency by parties to deviate from the country’s plans and strategies.
This, adds the reform documents, will ensure that the country’s transformative agenda stays on course and stands the test of time including any change of government.
As noted, much here has been paperwork. Apart from abandoning development projects started by the Joyce Banda administration—for instance, Mudzi Transformation Trust (MTT) and Farm Input Loan Programme (Filp)—there is nothing, in one year, that the party can show on the ground.
- Council of representatives
On what some experts argued that DPP wants to bring back the Senate, the party, in their manifesto, promised that there will be a new political forum called the “Council of Representatives”. The council, according to the manifesto document, would be composed of group interests including traditional leaders, teachers, religious groups, women in business, youths, the elderly, people with disabilities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
“The Council of Representatives will be an advisory body to Parliament and shall debate issues of specific interest to them and make proposals and recommendations to the Parliament for endorsement and legislation,” reads the manifesto.
Though its relevance remains a mystery to most governance experts, one year on, nothing has happened on the ground. In fact, there has not been even a single discussion or reference to it in the one year the party has been in office. The question is: Will it really come to pass?
- Limiting presidential powers
Before he rose to the presidency, Mutharika had always been a vocal critic of presidential powers in Malawi. He had always argued for the need to limit them. This, somehow, does explain the reason limiting presidential powers was part of the promises DPP made in the manifesto. In their own manifesto words the party promised that, once elected, they will reduce concentration of power in the presidency.
One year on, Mutharika is still enjoying every privilege of concentrated power in the presidency. The only movement on the promise has been the letter which the Public Service Reform Committee (PSRC) wrote the President asking him to relinquish some of his powers. Specifically, the PSRC called on the President to relinquish mostly his power of appointing and firing top bosses of various government institutions. To which, as reported by The Nation in February this year, the President accepted.
However, beyond the acceptance, which experts argued that it should be legislated there has not been any change on the ground regarding the reduction of presidential powers.
- Passing ethical political laws
As one way of advancing ethical issues in the country’s politics, DPP promised that it will pass and implement a number of laws including: a law on handouts and a law that will prevent sitting members of Parliament from benefiting from increasing their own salaries and benefits.
One year on, nothing of that sort has happened—even just coming up with a special Law Commission to begin the process of law development. Just like all other promises, the next four years will be quite interesting as it will prove that passing these laws was, indeed, a valid promise or just a hoax.
** NEXT WEEK: We wrap up our assessment by talking to DPP to rate itself and also some governance experts and commentators.