On Tuesday, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika went to Parliament, unilaterally divorced Mrs. Chief Justice Anastazia Msosa from her husband, immediately wedded her to a Mr. Msowoya then proceeded to deliver a weak monologue that was immediately forgotten.
The national chatter quickly returned to an apparently more important topic given that it was announced earlier than 95 percent of the promised 20-member Cabinet: President Mutharika’s hurried wedding today to his “long time confidant” (whatever that means), former parliamentarian Gertrude Maseko.
You wouldn’t’ know it, but the President had presided over the official opening of the 45th Session of Parliament as well as Provisional Budget Meeting and delivered his first ever State of the Nation Address whose title was Transforming Our Country into a Prosperous Nation with a Shared Vision—a presumably colourful vision I certainly did not see, well at least not as vividly as the President hoped some of us would.
Either I need divine imagination intervention or the dream was too blurred for me to make any sense out of it.
It was also a surprisingly shallow speech, even pedestrian and delivered like zolengeza (announcements) in church—you know, that time when that bespectacled fellow in a by-gone era conservative suit tells the congregation who is marrying whom, who is sick where and who is hosting Bible studies or milaga on which days.
Not only did the address lack depth and density that are expected of such monumental speeches, it also had precious few ear flappers.
Look, no one can accuse Professor Mutharika of being a notable or stellar public speaker, but for goodness sake, did the President’s aides have to cap that underachievement with such a dreary and poorly written speech?
It was the type of speech that bore people to sleep. Even the dutiful applauses whenever and wherever they came from were tortured, not impulsive; were torturous, not uproarious.
And at the end of the address, I got the sense that the President was glad it was over and appeared grateful to time for rescuing him from his misery.
For all her terrible delivery of shrills and stolen “I have a dream” mantra that turned out to be Cashgate and Jetgate nightmares, former president Joyce Banda’s speeches were fairly well written.
The good professor’s, to be honest, are third rate so far. To begin with, the Parliament’s speech was disjointed, the writers having failed to weave it into a compelling and easy to follow story line.
The speech starts remarkably well with an uplifting and inspirational national self-examination as well as a call to action, but then instead of building on that momentum, the man suddenly veers from this and starts congratulating everybody. Why didn’t they first dispense with the back-patting before embarking on substantive matters?
After that, the speech just went downhill and all over, trying to do everything, but spectacularly achieving, well, nothing.
I don’t know about you, but by the end of the speech, I did not get away with the vision that we are all supposed to share with the lofty aim of heading for a common purpose.
All I heard—I cannot even remember anything that was new or that struck a chord—was “my administration” will do this; “the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led government” will do that; all of which was a regurgitation of what is already under implementation and interspersed with some stuff plucked somewhere from the DPP manifesto and dusty policy papers from Capital Hill.
In some cases, the President sounded like an activist brandishing overused placard phrases that have no discernible meanings.
For example, “There will be no sacred cows! Indeed, there will be no untouchables!” Apart from the fact that I have heard those popularity pick-up lines before from someone who a few weeks ago was sitting exactly where the professor sits today, what does that mean?
Does the President even believe that himself? I mean, even our Scandinavian friends—the toppers of integrity indices—have not eliminated corruption, as desirable an outcome as this maybe.
Then there is this declaration: “Government will establish a corrupt-free Civil Service”. Oh, really? Who is the President trying to fool? What is the point of promising impossible missions you have no intention of embarking on, let alone achieve?
What we need are clear and realistic goals, not bland statements marketers enjoy splashing on bill boards.
On the economy, I expected a clear direction on the strategic choices the Peter Mutharika administration has settled on, including on the test subject of liberalisation of sensitive markets such as foreign currency, fuel and electricity, among others.
I am as blank today as I was before the President spoke regarding the direction the country’s economy would take.
Sure, the President talked about creating an enabling environment to achieve four principal objectives: attaining macro-economic growth; allocating resources more efficiently; mobilising domestic and foreign resources to support economic growth; and reducing public expenditure.
He also mentioned addressing the current internal disequilibrium in the economy characterised by serious foreign exchange shortages, unsustainable budget deficits and mounting domestic debt service burdens.
But, again, what does all this mean? Are we going to stay the Joyce Banda macroeconomic course—which is what most investors and other business as well as economic thought leaders want—or will we return to the left, the control freak grand policy positions of the Bingu wa Mutharika era DPP?
Surely, we cannot wait for September when Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe presents his full budget to get this much needed clarity.
The uncertainty is very unhealthy. The earlier we have direction, the better for all of us so that necessary adjustments can be made in response to any changes.