The good thing out of economic mess


They say once bitten twice shy. The Joyce Banda administration shouldn’t be surprised that more and more people are critical of their government.

Being a third in the line of State presidents for multiparty Malawi, Mrs. Joyce Banda comes after Malawians have twice been promised heaven only to get a raw deal by the end of the day.

Besides, surrounding the President are the same people that rallied behind her predecessors.

What is emerging from all this is that Malawians no longer believe people go into politics primarily as a service to their motherland and its people. Rather, they go into politics as a gateway to economic opportunities, which often translates into swindling the economy.

The good thing out of all this scepticism is that Malawians no longer sit on the terraces believing there are good Samaritans in government who are honest enough to use public resources for our common good.

Instead, they are all awake, watching every step the President and her Cabinet make; screaming loud if the presidential convoy is long, or if presidential trips are frequent, or if the President goes to New York for three weeks with a 40-member entourage.

They also protest if the Vice-President utters something condescending at a rally in Karonga or gets embroiled in the transferring of beds from Mponela to his own constituency in Mzimba at a time of by-elections.

They also watch closely government fiscal policies and rush to the media—radios and newspapers—to speak out their views and, in some cases, mobilise and stage protests or withhold their labour.

This is participatory democracy from which the definition “government of the people, for the people and by the people” derived its name. Gradually, Malawian taxpayers are beginning to realise that their hard-earned money entrusted to the care of those in government can only be safe and serve the intended purpose if they vigilantly play the guard.

It is no longer enough for those in government to promise respect for human rights or construction of roads and hospitals. People also expect these privileged folks to stick to the budget, justify their actions, show results and be sensitive enough to cut on extravagance in these hard times.

Of course, the ultimate price of not listening could be losing in 2014. But how can a government that assumes office amid all this economic turmoil win an election?

I do not believe the JB administration should seek an economic recovery plan that can yield results in 18 months. Understandably, this time-frame coincides with the 2014 elections, but the economy is most likely going to get much worse, probably for much longer than anticipated, and recovery can only be gradual.

The most urgent task for government is to send the right signals that we can trust to take us out of this economic mess. Cut out extravagance. Cut out luxury. Fight corruption and bring efficiency to the development agenda.

JB’s predecessors—Bingu wa Mutharika and Bakili Muluzi—promised to reduce poverty but, by the end of the day, they measured their success by the roads they opened, not the poverty reduction they promised us. Both of them left us poorer and more desperate.

They failed to reduce poverty. What they achieved is their own poverty reduction. Judging by the mansions they built for themselves, the money they were splashing and the cars they were driving, I have no doubt they both left office very rich, most likely millionaires.

The same can also be said of most of their cronies. They left much richer than was the case when they assumed office. Could it be that these folks were responsible for the 30 percent of public revenue that disappeared from the kitty every year?

We will never know because both Muluzi and Mutharika allowed the declaration of assets provision of the Constitution to remain without an enabling law.

There is already an outcry that those in the JB government have not even bothered to declare their assets. The Anti-Corruption Bureau is without a leader and donors have lost confidence in it. What stops people in government from using incumbency to steal? That is the fear JB ought to decisively address, if at all our votes mean anything to her, come 2014.

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