Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why The Malawi Government is Behaving Like a Diminutive Creature

By its very nature, the government— any government— is supposed to be a giant looming over tiny citizens. For all intents and purposes, the government— any government— is supposed to run the shots.
Not the Malawi Government!
From the word go— the moment President Peter Mutharika discarded the cloak of ‘ordinary citizen’ to adopt the all-powerful name of President , he has been behaving like a man struggling to shrug off the shadow of nobody knows who! But, definitely, the shadow that looms over the supposedly all-knowing President is not that of former, temporary, president Joyce Banda. For Banda, may she eat enough today wherever she may be, fears her own shadow!
But there is a shadow President Peter [the name Peter is being repeated to avoid us confusing the President with that other president who smiles at us from beyond our reach] Mutharika fears— a shadow that, probably, forces him to turn his Cabinet ministers into reactionary forces up to, no apologies for this description, some no-good.
Look, since President Peter Mutharika took over the joystick of power after the May 22, 2016 elections [it is difficult to know whether we can ably call those elections the ‘May 22 Tripartite Elections’, for they took almost forever [before the tearful Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson, Justice Maxon Mbendera made the announcement the opposition loves to hate, after Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda forced the hand of the Malawi Electoral Commission on the issue], his administration has quickly adopted this idea of responding to every media reports that casts the government in negative light.
If the government is not responding to former president Joyce Banda’s outbursts, some Cabinet Assessment, or civil society organisations’ threats to hold demonstrations against government’s failure to arrest an economy on a free-fall, then it is responding to media comments about the media’s perception of President Peter Mutharika’s unwillingness to appear before ‘harmless’ members of Parliament and respond to ‘harmless’ questions.
Today [March 15], the government— through the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs— has seen it fit to be at it again.
When fear is in high supply due to reports of hunger all over the place [truthfully, though, hunger is not all over the place. I was in the Central Region districts of Mchinji and Kasungu two weeks ago, and I saw the promises that the land in these two districts has made to the farmers: They will have a good harvest], and when the country is running low on hope, the government still finds the time to indulge in the pleasure of writing hastily-written, redundant press releases.
If the purpose of the press statements is not to persuade citizens to change their rational way of thinking and embrace blind patriotism, then, surely, it [the purpose of the press statements] is to assure itself [the government machinery] that it is still in control, and that there are still people out there who can listen to it!
Otherwise, the press statements have become so routine that they serve no purpose.
But, at the same time, they serve a purpose. More than anything else, the purpose is to ‘assure’ Malawians that, contrary to the picture they have— the picture of a government so in touch with current affairs that no one can beat it hands down; the picture that the government is an all-knowing ‘human-being’ who looms over all national affairs, fears and hopes inclusive— the truth is that their government has become a ‘being’ so diminutive that it has been dwarfed by the complexity of the problems the nation is facing.
Need we talk about hunger, economic meltdown [though the kwacha has, of late, been picking up its own pieces, to the chagrin of tobacco farmers who see their investment being eroded by every muscle the kwacha gains], hunger— which has fuelled cholera cases [indeed, for the first time in as many years, we see the health system failing to control the outbreak]— a health system run down by drug shortages that it exists only in name, government’s reluctance to embrace Access to Information [as seen by its watering down of the ATI Draft Bill, among others? No. This is work for another day.
But, when the government grows so afraid of the voice of its own citizens and media that it reduces its core function to issuing press statements, citizens have reasons to worry. Worry, yes, because it means the government is afraid of setting the wheel of democracy run free. And such behaviour is precisely undemocratic.
Those who may wish to go through the government’s latest piece of madness, here is the press statement released today.



The Daily Times and the Nation Newspapers today, the 15th March 2016, carried articles entitled: “Mutharika dodges MPs’ questions” ...; and, “Mutharika refuses to answer MPs’ questions....”. The stories in both newspapers are quoting the announcement which the Speaker of the National Assembly, Rt. Hon. Richard Msowoya made in the National Assembly to the effect that the President had delegated to the respective line Ministers the questions which had been asked by some Members of Parliament pursuant to Section 89(4) of the Constitution. The Nation Newspaper, has gone to the extent of imputing that by such delegation, the President has flouted the Constitution which he swore to uphold.

Section 89 of the Constitution deals with powers, duties and functions of the President. Sub-sections (3) and (4) of that Section provide for questions to the President. Section 89(6) of the same Constitution expressly states that “the powers and functions of the President shall be exercised by him or her personally or by a member of the Cabinet or by a Government official to whom the President has delegated such power in writing.”

While the Constitution is clear that there are certain specific powers and functions which can only be exercised by the President alone, it does not restrict the President from delegating some of those functions if he chooses to do so. In the case of the questions which were asked by the Members of Parliament, it is clear that the responses to them can best be provided by the line Ministers. The President was, therefore, perfectly entitled to delegate to the said Ministers, and in doing so, he was acting within law. Indeed, it is inconceivable to expect that the President would be able to deal with each and every issue or question personally. Hence, delegation is a necessary part of his Constitutional functions because it affords him the opportunity to deal with other equally important matters of State.

With respect to the Parliamentary questions, the Business Committee fully appreciated that the President could delegate his functions. Standing Orders 70 and 201 of the National Assembly regulate the manner in which questions to the President are handled. Except for questions under Section 89(3) (c) of the Constitution, Standing Order 201 leaves open the possibility for the President to delegate.

Government is, therefore, appealing to all those who comment on matters of public interest to do so in a manner that is fair and accurate. Quoting one provision of the Constitution in isolation from the other similar provisions has the potential to mislead the masses. Fairness demands that those who have the podium to comment on public issues must do so in a manner which is balanced. To interpret the Speaker’s announcement that the President had delegated the Ministers to answer his questions as a refusal by the President is grossly misleading.

Made this 15th Day of March at Capital Hill, Lilongwe.


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