Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Political Art of Forsaking Success

It must be a practice engraved at the back of the Malawian leader's mind.

Or else, how could a country fall into the trap of abandoning projects introduced by others?

Sadly, this is the state of affairs in the State. Every time a new leader comes into the public circle, old plans are abandoned with abandon, and new plans embraced with long, tiny arms. It must be one of the symptoms of the disease called democracy. Or, is it not?

Samples of this regrettable behaviour are strewn along Malawi's democratic path. Take, for instance, the issue of change of government on May 30, 2014. 

No, let's start with April 7, 2014, when former president Joyce Banda inherited the 'hot' seat. She jumped into the pot when water was boiling at boiling point. Among other things, the economic situation was hopeless. What more evidence does one need than the spectacle of never-ending fuel queues, a shrinking economy, fuming development partners were some of the things that characterised that dark period in Malawi’s democratic history.

Indeed, for the first time in Malawi’s democratic history, some ill-minded Malawians cerebrated when a sitting president died. This was against our tradition, which encourages us to respect the dead, but one could forgive such people owing to the fact that the situation Malawi was in before that sad event was catastrophic.

Do not get me wrong. I am not backing those who cerebrated after getting the news that an important person in the land had died. I am just emphasising the point that things had gone out of hand and all those who cared about Malawi understood the situation very well.

So, having realised that things had gone out of hand and that the nation needed to take immediate action, the then president, Dr. Banda, came up with the idea of developing a plan that would put Malawi back on the path of economic development. Hence, the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) was conceptionalised and launched with pomp.

I remember very well that local economic experts and development partners hailed the ERP, which came after the Joyce Banda administration had already followed the International Monetary Fund’s advice to devalue the local currency soon after the former president was sworn in.

It is not understatement that the situation improved and things started picking up. It is also not an understatement that the ERP was one of the strategies that helped the situation to stabilise.

Misdirected politics
It is against this background that I fault the current administration of President Peter Mutharika for deciding to abandon the ERP. 

Without mincing words, the current administration has just thrown a winning formula to the dogs.
I don’t think the current administration has good grounds for discarding this initiative, especially when it is clear that it helped clean the economic mess left behind by the other Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration. I have a strong feeling that the decision has been made to perpetuate the spirit of dirty politics that all the new administrations have heartlessly promoted.

I say so because when the United Democratic Front (UDF) was voted into power in 2004, it abandoned not only the bad policies implemented by the Malawi Congress Party regime; it also abandoned the good ones. Apart from changing the policies, it also changed personnel whose only duty was to implement the technical side of government’s programmes.

Indeed, when the DPP became the ruling party through the back door in 2005, it also discarded not only UDF’s policies; it demoted and even fired people who could have helped in advancing the country’s development agenda.
We saw history repeating itself when the People’s Party administration became Malawi’s new master. We saw a number of public officers being fired, or demoted despite protestations from commentators. We also saw the government lose millions through payments made to those who were unfairly dismissed.
Sadly, the so-called DPP regime is at it again. It has abandoned the ERP.
Malawians should just brace for the worst because we don’t know what else the new administration will temper with. This is dirty politics at play.

Don't kill the boy!
What this administration needs to do is not discarding good initiatives such as the ERP. It needs to adopt the positives and do away with the negatives.

As someone who has worked with international NGOs, I have become acquainted with terms such as Best Practices. Those who value Best Practices realise that there are positives from every project or initiative, no matter how ill-conceived or bad the project/initiative was.

By adopting Best Practices, and leaving out the Worst Practices, we have seen organisations and even countries achieve sustainability economically, socially, politically etcetera, thereby ensuring that developments do not stall but continue.

Why can’t we do the same by adopting Best Practices, even from political opponents we don’t like?
There is no reason to abandon the ERP because, truthfully speaking, the new administration is yet to show us that it can change things. We cannot say that the economy has picked up. We cannot say that we have drugs in public hospitals. We cannot say that the electricity blackouts are now history.

So why abandon the ERP when the situation has not changed? As things stand now, we know that donors have not released the much-needed aid, and that we may work on a Zero-Deficit Budget.
It is, therefore, not justifiable to abandon the ERP. 

Malawians should realise that not everything associated with the Madam Banda regime was bad. I don’t think, for example, that the High Level Development Council which was launched in January is a bad idea.

We need to maintain such programmes for the sake of the nation and development. We are all Malawians.
In conclusion, it is high time we embraced civilised politics and stopped initiatives launched by people we don’t like for the sake of it. Government is a going concern.

This must be the beginning of a new beginning!

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