PHOYA: Straight Talk (Malawi Democrat)

BLANTYRE – (Malawi Democrat) Member of Parliament for Blantyre Rural East and chairman of Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee Henry Duncan Dama Phoya gave an explosive interview to Brian Banda on Capital Radio’s Straight Talk programme. This is the transcript of that interview.

 

Brian Banda:  Honourable Duncan Phoya, what a great opportunity to have you in this edition of Capital Straight Talk, most welcome.

Henry Phoya: Thank you very much indeed Brian.

Brian: we are meeting whilst the session of the National Assembly is still continuing, but people would want to know who Duncan Phoya is, what have been your successes, your achievements and probably your qualifications.

Phoya: My full names are actually Henry Duncan Dama Phoya, I was born in Blantyre on 10th December 1966, so this coming December I will be 45 years old.

I have been a lawyer in private practice for a total of 10 years before joining politics. I joined politics in 2001/2002, and when I joined politics I was appointed by the former president, Dr Bakili Muluzi to be the country’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice. I served in various ministerial portfolios both with Dr Muluzi and with the current president Professor Bingu wa Mutharika. Am now an ordinary Member of Parliament, am a back bencher, I represent my home area of Blantyre Rural East.

BrianWhat is your comment on the current state of affairs in the country? Am asking this question deliberately because you know Honourable Duncan Phoya, you and together with other senior members of the DPP served the Bingu wa Mutharika administration pretty well, when it was in minority, you are no longer a cabinet minister, do you think you are a frustrated politician?

Phoya: Yes I think that’s one point that needs to be clarified because I keep hearing this thing that maybe I could be frustrated for the simple reasons that am no longer in cabinet. But when I was embarking on my political career, it wasn’t with the intention of going into cabinet. The main driving motivation then, was to serve the people of my area in parliament. And I think am still doing that. So the issue of frustration doesn’t come in at all.

As others have said before me, it is indeed the prerogative of the president to appoint, you know, people he would like to serve with him in his cabinet and it pleased him to appoint me from 2004 up to 2009 to serve as one of his cabinet ministers, and I think I discharged my duties to the best of my abilities during that period. But after 2009, he also deemed it necessary not to include me in his cabinet and I respected that decision that he made, I still respect it up to now.

BrianDo you think you served President Bingu wa Mutharika very well?

Phoya: Yes, I think I can say without any fear of contradiction that I served the president well indeed between 2004 to 2009.

BrianThen why do you think he dropped you out of cabinet in 2009?

Phoya: Aaaaah, I wouldn’t know, you know, if I gave a reason now I would be speaking on his behalf, I think he knows best why, you know, he saw that he no longer needed my services in the cabinet. So I have no comment to say, to make about that one.

BrianA lot of people that have talked to us have talked of how probably the president might not be ungrateful to you and other members… Henry Mussa, who supported the party when it was in minority; and this is why I asked whether you have problems with you being dropped from cabinet after serving the minority government then?

Phoya: No, I don’t have a problem at all because you serve in cabinet because the president wants you to be there, you cannot force your way into cabinet, I mean you are going to be serving a person; the president, and for some reason he does not want you to be there, why should you force your way into cabinet? Or why should you feel that you still have to be there? you are there at his pleasure.

Brian : Was you allegiance to the party and indeed to the president prior to 2009 general elections questionable?

Phoya: Not at all. I can say that you know very very sanely, my allegiance to both the party and president has always remained very firm. And Brian, If you go back and look at the events, of especially 2005 after the president had declared that he was no longer UDF up to 2009, that was a great test of one’s allegiance to both the president and government because there were strong forces that wanted us, especially those who had been from UDF to come out, desert the president and assist in the cause of removing him from office. You know what took place back then, there was the impeachment issue, there was the issue of section 65, so if one stood firm and stood by the president during that period, I don’t think you can question that person’s allegiance at all.

Brian: So honestly, you don’t feel used and dumped?

Phoya: People around me would think to feel that way more than I myself. I don’t feel used and dumped because I feel I can still serve this country because you know strictly speaking when you are appointed into cabinet you are still serving the nation and I feel that still play my role. I can still serve this country that I love so much in the position that I am in now.

But I must admit that they are a number of people around me, people very close to me, who felt very aggrieved when this happened, and when the impression was being given that I was being ostracised that I was being, maybe marginalized by both the party and government.

But I have a different view, I think I can still soldier on in the position that I hold, and still serve, you know, this country.

Brian: Do you think President Bingu wa Mutharika is an ungrateful president?

Phoya: No I wouldn’t think so, and I don’t think so and I have never had have cause to believe so. So…

Brian: I am asking this question because a lot of people that started the party together with, Joyce Banda, Khumbo Kachali, Uladi Mussa, Ken Zikhale N’goma and so many… Paul Maulidi, have parted ways with the president and he is now with people that have either joined him along the way these are the people who might not know the foundation of the party.

Phoya: Ya! But the president himself might have good reasons why we should have a situation like that, where we have people who stood by him no longer, you know, serving him now, and people who were completely outside, and you know, I can tell you Brian, there are also people who used to deride the president who used to say nasty things about the president, that we now see ,you know, are being very close to him, and some of us find it quite amusing and quite interesting.

Brian: So no frustrations? No hard feelings?

Phoya: None at all, this is politics. And in politics one should expect the unexpected to happen.

BrianLet’s quickly talk about the Injunctions Bill. You gave a moving speech just before the bill was passed and a lot of people have spoken on how and why you spoke like that, because you did not support the bill. Why?

Phoya: I did not support the Bill for what I considered to be very good reasons and if someone is not happy with the position that I have taken, so be it, because I think it’s a very important bill, it’s not something you would say ok, let me tow the party line..let me support this so that I gain favours from the powers that be and then life will go on as usual. With this bill, if it were to come into force, life would not go on as usual, they would be severe changes. I hope people can understand this. So I decided that this is one of the issues that one should be able to draw the line and say am not willing to cross this line simply for political expedience.

Brian: I want you to listen to what you said in Parliament, take a listen and we will take it from there.

Phoya (audio recording of address in Parliament):”Members must realise that what we have before us is a Bill, which when enacted will have thorough and significant consequences on the day to day life of ordinary Malawians. I would not therefore, Mr Speaker Sir, bring personally malice into such an important matter as this one. In the same vein I would also not want to look at the Bill while wearing my political spectacles or glasses. The practical effects of this bill on the lives of ordinary Malawians are more important than any personal political considerations that one may have (applause).

In order to underline the importance of this bill allow me to mention that we are where we are today because of ex-party injunctions. (MP’s applause).

The first one, Mr Speaker Sir, is the ex-party injunction that was obtained against the impeachment efforts of the then opposition. Mr Speaker Sir I cite these two examples of Impeachment and the Section 65, with a very heavy heart and most, most reluctantly, because that was a very unfortunate and sad face of our political history in this country, but I feel compelled to do so because of some of the sentiments that have been expressed in relation to the report which I presented in this house.

It was the sincere hope of some of us therefore, Mr Speaker Sir, that in looking at the Bill again, which was a recommendation contained in the report the Honourable the Attorney General would use the occasion to reflect on some of the issues that arose when the former A.G. Mrs Jane Ansah came before the committee,”.

Brian: When you spoke like that does that worry you?

Phoya: It doesn’t worry me at all. My plea is for my colleagues on government side to really understand what I was trying to say. Because as I can say here, it’s not just people on the opposite side that will need these ex-parte injunctions, even us on the government side will one day need the ex-parte injunctions, and that’s what all of us have to bear in mind.

And the point I was making there is to start with, government is already a very powerful and mighty entity and to enact this law would give government even more added power over ordinary individuals. Is that the situation we would like to see in this country? That’s my question.

Brian: It’s amazing! Honourable Phoya hearing you talk like that, because as you have said there in the clip, the DPP administration together with a number of Members of Parliament are still surviving today because of the Injunctions that they got from the courts. Why should you think that a government that survived on the Injunctions would want to take that route?

Phoya: My own view is that, whoever came up with the idea of that Bill did not do enough home work, because had they done so, they would have realised that this is not a route we should be taking. So I felt that it is incumbent upon some of us to just highlight certain things and really paint a picture of what sort of Malawi would be created because of this Bill.

Brian: Where do you think this Bill is coming from, the president himself?

Phoya: No I think, strictly speaking, this Bill is a creation of the Ministry of Justice, specifically the Attorney General; and here I am speaking very openly because we interviewed officials from the ministry of Justice including the Attorney General, and in the course of this interview we learnt one or two things, one of which is that it is the former Attorney General who drafted this Bill, so I wouldn’t want to bring the president into this without any evidence pointing that direction.

Brian: But why should the Attorney General do that?

Phoya: Probably she was convinced that the set of events in the country required a Bill such as this one; I think she might have been motivated by that.

Brian: A lot of people have equated your courage in commenting on the Bill, the courage that was seen in the 1964 during the cabinet crisis of the (Masauko) Chipembere’s, with the first Ngwazi. The question is where did you get this courage, to speak against the ideals of your own party, in parliament?

Phoya: I think any politician should always bear in mind that their main duty is to provide a service to the people they serve, now if you lose track of that then you are no longer a good politician. I think when you do that then that’s the fault. I was able to speak like that because I had the welfare of ordinary people in mind and that’s what motivated me. And let me also mention the fact that I was not motivated by any wish to become popular or gain any cheap mileage out of this. As you heard from my speech, the issue at hand is too important for one to bring in personal political considerations into it. It’s too important; I know some will accuse me of trying to gain political mileage by saying what I said but I wish to assure them that I wasn’t motivated by anything.

Brian: Do you think your view is shared amongst many members of parliament especially the DPP members who have the same thinking like the way you spoke?

Phoya: You know Brian, although I would not want to say this for fear o finjuring the feelings of some of my colleagues, but as we were filing out of parliament on that day a number of my fellow MP’s on our side walked up to me and told me in the face that they agreed with everything I had said. But despite that they had decided to still vote ‘yes’ for reasons that they could not give me. But I can assure you that, it’s not only the ten of us that decided not to add our voice to this Bill, that felt that way, they are a lot more MP’s on governments side that felt that the Bill should not go through.

Brian: But is this the beginning of the true representation in parliament, or it was just one of those things?

Phoya: One can only hope so, one can only hope that I think from now on people would be able to vote with their conscience, and I also hope in the same vein that people will not abuse that feeling. I think we should only do it when it is absolutely necessary to do so.

Brian: you have commented on the Injunctions Bill which you have objected right from the beginning, but how come several Bills have passed, I have in mind the Local Courts Bill, the amendment to Section 46 of the Penal Code and how the flag was changed, why didn’t you object to those?

Phoya: Ya aaaaaaah mmmmm, you see, I was required or rather we were required as the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament to scrutinize the Injunctions Bill. With regard to the other Bills you have mentioned we probably were not called upon to give our input and I just participated in the house as a normal member of parliament.

Brian: you also came out very sharply on the third term bid, by the former president Bakili Muluzi, others have said you were the man that frustrated the whole thing because of your speech in parliament, are you considering now that you a frustrator of government Bills?

Phoya: I wouldn’t call myself as a frustrator of government Bills, but I think to a large extent I try to follow the dictates of society at large. If society is against a particular issue and if I agree with the reasons that society is advancing for their position I will always side with the larger society, because I am a representative of the people and I have to listen to the view of the people.

Brian: The Bill passed in parliament and others have said we should blame on the voting process, do you think the secret ballot could have given us the alternative result?

Phoya: If what was being said to me by our other colleagues is anything to go by, then my own conclusion would be if the vote could have been done by way of secret ballot the result could have been very different from what come out.

Brian: Others are thinking that you might be inciting some sort of rebellion in the DPP with such kind of statements?

Phoya: Brian I am not a rebellious sort of a person, I have never been and I do not wish to be become one now. And I think to be fair to my fellow MP’s who voted like I did, I think they did that out of their own volition, I don’t think they were forced or either cajoled by me, they also felt the same way I felt.

Brian: A lot of men and women who have been critical  of President Bingu wa Mutharika decisions and these are for example Joyce Banda, Khumbo Kachali, Uladi Mussa, have been expelled from the party are you not afraid that you might also be taken that route?

Phoya: If I am expelled for standing up for the rights of the ordinary Malawians then I will have no regrets, I will go a happy person and I think that’s all I have to say for the time being.

Brian: Have there been any kind of reprisals?

Phoya: None, not at the moment.

Brian: How is the leadership of your party looking at you, with such kind of statements in Parliament?

Phoya: I wouldn’t know because I am a backbencher, I have very few occasions when I rub shoulders with the leadership in parliament of our party, they are up there and we are down here and I am a very insignificant member of parliament in the house, so I do not know what the senior people our leaders in parliament could be thinking about me at this point in time.

Brian: But when it came to the voting time you chose to abstain. You did not say no or yes? Why did you do that?

Phoya: I did that out of deference and out of politeness to my party. I did not want to come out as voting against my party outright, but I thought by abstaining I would be making a statement that I wasn’t in support of the Bill. But I didn’t see that it was going to be proper for me to actually vote with the opposition because I need to repeat this, I am still a member of the DPP, a loyal member, and I would like to remain as such for foreseeable future. So I decided to abstain in order to make a statement that I was not in support of the Bill and I thought that the abstaining part statement would be loud enough. You should also know that by abstaining, I deducted from the yes vote by at least 1 vote, the yes vote lost one vote which they should have gained if I had voted yes.

Brain: Isn’t that cowardice?

Phoya: I think cowardice would have been, if I had gone there and said something that I didn’t believe in, but I said everything I believed in and I think the statement here in my speech is loud enough. A coward wouldn’t have made the kind of speech that I made there.

Brain: Let’s quickly talk about the future of the Democratic Progressive Party, with the way things are now, we have the voice of dissent led by you in parliament, and a few, 10 more members of parliament, do you think it’s going to be a united front till 2014 or we will see emerging camps coming from there?

Phoya: Whether the party remains united or not is dependent on whether the party will continue churning out pieces that go against the grain of what most people in Malawi feel is right. If we can minimize on that, then I can assure you that the party will remain strong up to 2014. But if we keep on bringing out all these controversial issues, issues that are not very much in the interest of Malawians, am afraid to say that the future doesn’t look too good for the party.

Brain: The future doesn’t look too good for the party?

Phoya: If we continue bringing out issues that people are not happy with.

Brian: But for example the government’s spokesperson, and indeed the Chief Whip in the House Vuwa Kaunda has spoken things that may not reflect well on you, does that worry you?

Phoya: It does not worry me at all. Because he has a job to do and I understand, he has to do that job in a certain way. He has to maintain his position and I understand him when he has to do those things, I understand him perfectly well.

Brian: What is it that you understand?

Phoya: I understand that he has a job to do.

Brian: Do you have any interest, and I want you to be honest with me Honourable Phoya, to represent the DPP in the presidential elections come 2014?

Phoya: if you have been following events in the country I think the DPP has taken a position as to who should represent it in that particular race. I think we have all heard that the party has decided that it has to be a particular person. So anyone with intelligence in their head should completely rule that out. I think the DPP already has a presidential candidate.

Brian: And do you support that candidate in the name of Professor Peter Mutharika?

Phoya: No. I would be able to answer that question when the DPP holds a convention where a level playing field will be provided and the level playing field will not only be provided at that convention but I will also be happy if all aspiring candidates will be given the same kind of opportunity to sell themselves and then once an individual emerges out of the resultant convention I will express my views with regard to that individual.

Brian: Will I be wrong if I conclude that you are not endorsing Professor Peter Mutharika?

Phoya: I think you wouldn’t be wrong because I haven’t stated whether I am endorsing him or not endorsing him.

Brain: Why is it taking you so long to endorse him when a lot of DPP parliamentarians, including cabinet ministers, have already endorsed him at their political rallies?

Phoya: I would not do so because I feel that by doing that, we are actually selling the DPP short, we are actually making the DPP less attractive to people. Because you know, at the end of the day it’s the people who will decide.  And if we seem to be doing certain things that the general public out there is questioning, then we are in a way de-campaigning the DPP. And certainly I would not want to be part of that group de-campaigning the DPP.

Brain: Do you know how strong the DPP is now, it used to be popular, but they have been several issues that have been raised on the party and the indeed the governance of the country, if you are maybe honest with me, do you still think the DPP is popular?

Phoya: I think if we could have a credible pollster in this country, someone who could run an opinion poll in the country, am sure they could come up with the result that our popularity ratings have dropped somehow.

Brain: And who is to blame, the people that are advising the president or the president himself?

Phoya: I wouldn’t say, I have to be frank here that since 2009, I haven’t been at the centre of the decision making process in the DPP, and most of the times I also get to hear about certain policies just like everyone else in the country, so I don’t know who is coming up with these policies, from where these policies are emanating, am not too sure.

Brian: It’s strange really, because you are the founding member, you were very close to President Bingu wa Mutharika as a cabinet minister and a founding member of the DPP and this is why I asked you earlier in the show, to say isn’t this an indication that all is not well, and you are now speaking like that because you are a bit frustrated?

Phoya: Not at all, I think if you listen to me very carefully, I have resigned myself to my fate in so far as the DPP is concerned; I am not at all aggrieved, I don’t feel aggrieved. I am just watching events as they unfold, just like everybody else and that element of frustration does not come in at all, I can assure you of that.

Brain: Are you still going to hold on to the DPP, am asking this question a few days ago a former member of the party Davis Katsonga told me that this may be regarded as a sinking Titanic.

Phoya: I think Honourable Davis Katsonga as a politician is entitled to his personal political views, whether I agree with those views or not is neither here nor there, but that’s the conclusion that he made and I think we should respect his views on that. We are all here in the country we can see what is happening in this country and I think everyone of us is free to conclude whether the DPP is a sinking Titanic or not.

Brian: Do you think it is a sinking Titanic?

Phoya: I don’t think so, like I said, if certain things are corrected, am sure the future of DPP is still bright, but if we continue on the path we have taken then am afraid the future looks rather bleak indeed.

Brain: What should be corrected?

Phoya: I think we need to reciprocate the people of this country overwhelmingly voted for the DPP, when it happened I actually developed goosebumps on my skin because what the people were saying was, we want you to lead us, and we want you to do that with the all the powers that can be given to a political party, and the question we should be asking is; have we reciprocated to that goodwill that was shown to us by the people in 2009. Have we thanked them for doing that to us? That’s what we should be asking, and if the answer to that is ‘NO’ then it is very sad because in that case, I think we should consider that we have betrayed the people.

Brian: Statements have come across the board that sometimes it is difficult for the president to take advice, and we have talked of how people that supported him in the beginning, I can even mentioned names, are no longer close to him, he is surrounded by people who castigated him in the first place. Do you think that ours is the listening president? And does he take advice?

Phoya: I can only speak with authority on who the president is, if you ask me about the president that we had between 2004 and 2009, because that’s the president I was close to and that’s the president I worked for, and during that period the president was indeed a listening president and that’s why we made some sort of strides that we did between 2004 and 2009. Whether he is still a listening president after 2009, I cannot say because I don’t have any authority on which to base anything that I can say.

Brian: Are you not worried that you will be fired from the party? And if the party decides to fire you, will that not bother you?

Phoya: I think I have already answered that question Brian, I have said that if that happens and if it happens because I have tried to protect the interests of the people of Malawi, and then I will probably accept it.

Brian: And to sum it all, you have said the Injunctions Bill it’s a bad law, do you still stand to that statement?

Phoya: I still do, Brian.

Brian: You still do?

Phoya: It’s not something that we would want to see on our statute books, it doesn’t matter whether one is in government or not, I think we should remove our political spectacles as I pleaded in my speech, and look at these with very clear eyes, it is an undesirable legislation.

PHOYA: Straight Talk

Brian: What are you reading this week?

Phoya: This week I am reading a biography for president Obama of the US, he is one of my political idols. I would like to finish because I have another book that he authored and I would like to read it thereafter.

Brian: it’s been quite revealing and interesting hearing you talk Honourable Duncan Dama Phoya Thank you very much for joining us in this edition.

Phoya: Thank you very much Brian, thank you!

 

THE AUDIO INTERVIEW OF PHOYA

 

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