After only 100 days in power, the Joyce Banda administration went to town to celebrate what it called numerous successes.
Barely another 100 days later, however, Malawians are saying Banda is a failure. The people Banda governs have passed the damning verdict through a nationwide survey that Nation on Sunday conducted last week in which 71 percent of the 1 200 people sampled said she has failed to meet their expectations.
Face-to-face interviews for the survey were conducted in 20 districts. The poll also used the social networking platform Facebook and the short messaging service (SMS).
The problems of fuel, plummeting living standards owing to the devaluation and subsequent floatation of the kwacha and the arrogance of the presidency were some of the issues that have battered Banda’s fortunes.
For political analysts, the message to Banda and her People’s Party (PP) is that unless they check their complacency, 2014 could spell doom for them.
‘She has lost the plot’
Human rights activist Billy Mayaya said the President has lost the plot, a scenario he said is of her own making.
“People have become disillusioned with Joyce Banda’s presidency because she is no longer inspiring confidence. She is only reinforcing the culture of executive arrogance that has led to the downfall of presidents before her.
“She has taken on rejects from DPP and other political parties who do not add value to her image. Her increasingly arrogant tone towards the concerns of the general public about her extravagant travel itinerary, an absent policy agenda that would put Malawi on a trajectory of political progress and economic recovery all point to the reasons for the disillusionment,” said Mayaya
Chancellor College political analyst Dr Blessings Chinsinga said the results of the survey do not come as a surprise.
He said in many cases, the coming in of a new leader is accompanied by excitement which soon dies down when reality sets in.
Chinsinga said despite reversing the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s bad policies, Banda’s government has not made a ‘wow decision’ which people can point at and be proud of the government.
“Many people expected the economic and political crises to disappear and to make that happen, Joyce Banda had to make tough decisions like the automatic fuel pricing, devaluing the Kwacha and the floatation…sound policies, but the results are not immediate and, hence, the disillusionment, especially because people were not warned.
“Malawians are also disappointed because they expected a break from the politics of the previous administration, but they realised that things were unlikely to change, especially with the PP convention that brought in people that were in the past administrations that caused the current problems Malawi is facing,” said Chinsinga.
‘We are not surprised’
Presidential press secretary Steven Nhlane was also not surprised by the survey results.
In fact, he said, he was expecting the outcome.
“This survey came after the press had given the government a bad publicity such as the extensive coverage of the strikes, that set a background for a negative outcome.
“All our development partners (donors) are happy with the way government is handling things. I wonder why it is Malawians who seem not to see government’s efforts.
“When Her Excellency moved fast to reverse the past administration’s ills such as fuel, sugar and the many shortages, people expected the same speed to continue and could not accept the fact that some things had to get worse before getting better after the devaluation,” said Nhlane.
Chinsinga said government is also losing popularity because of failure to clearly state what it has planned to redeem the country from the economic crises,
Nhlane countered Chinsinga, saying government is already implementing programmes to cushion people from the effects of devaluation and to revamp the economy.
“We have the public works programmes where people are earning K300 [$1] per day, the cash transfer programme and the safety net programmes. As for the economic recovery, government cannot just recover overnight, that is why it asked for 18 months to fix it with the Economic Recovery Plan. People would then be justified to criticise government if it fails to recover then not now,” he said.
‘Media to blame’
Nhlane blamed the media for not going deep enough to look at what government is doing and instead giving a platform to some civil society personalities, some of whom have “personal agendas to advance.”
“The media had no agenda, it followed the agenda of NGOs who would go on a podium and call for the government to resign and get massive coverage. The media should consult first, some of these people have their own agendas,” he said.
Mayaya also said the people who surround Banda need to be replaced.
“She needs to surround herself with technocrats to deal with the current challenges. She needs to desist from using the tired old methods of using chiefs to advance her populist agenda.
“She needs to upset the apple cart by being a reformist of the civil service and changing the way citizens participate in the political process in Malawi. Otherwise, she is doing politics as usual, instead of politics unusual,” he argued.
Nhlane was not impressed. He said bringing in people from the previous administration cannot be the cause of the disillusionment because most people who came in via the convention are not fully in the government machinery yet.
‘Give us the benefit of the doubt’
He said the best thing Malawians need to do is give the new members the benefit of the doubt and judge them based on their performance when they start working.
Chinsinga also stressed on the President Banda’s failure to come out clearly and strongly on issues.
“The government should demonstrate unequivocally what it will do to curb problems and Joyce Banda should demonstrate strong leadership. For example, Malawians were told that the jet would be sold and that decision changed again. She also told Malawians that she cannot force the Cabinet to slash their pay. Ministers’ Benz vehicles were one day going to be sold and later that decision was reversed.
“Let there be clear strategies. It’s actually not too late for government to redeem itself; it just needs to take stock of the past, where we are and state clearly where we are going,” he said.
Nhlane said there is no politicking in the current administration and that reference to the past administration’s wrongs is only made so that people can understand where they are coming from, where they are and where they are going.
“The Economic Recovery Plan has short, medium and long-term goals. Government has asked for 18 months to implement it. Wait and bash government when that time expires and nothing improves,” he said contended.