When this column is published on Thursday, Malawi will have probably elected a President with a majority vote.
I hope the elections have been free, fair and peaceful. I also hope that the final results, when declared, will be perceived to be credible and a legitimately elected leader can assume office.
This election has offered the country with a unique opportunity to consolidate democracy and charter a new course for economic growth and development. This opportunity should be grabbed with both hands. Indeed, the time has come to transform a dysfunctional political system to one that seriously addresses issues of corruption, administrative inefficiency, and political inaction.
People’s trust in democratic institutions must be strengthened and the time to act is now. Here are six suggestions for the new government to consider.
1) Understand what Malawians want: Leaders must understand the needs of the people they serve. There is considerable evidence available that very clearly highlights the long list of demands that citizens have and what they expect in terms of social services. The government cannot ignore such demands.
2) Foster inclusive decision-making: The winning political alliance should formulate a written declaration outlining its policy priorities. It should also assemble a competent core team with diverse backgrounds and possessing the right skills and expertise to implement the political agenda. The government should aim to foster a culture where all members of the team, including experts, exercise policy influence.
3) Fight nepotism, corruption and mismanagement: Nothing will endear the government more to the people than a committed effort to address the corruption problem. This would require openness about the sources of wealth of the leadership team as well as beginning a national conversation on the need for, and the size of, various types of allowances.
4) Communicate: Governments cannot be secretive about everything they do. In addition, they cannot afford to be suspicious of public demands for information about official budgets, plans and activities. I suggest regular press conferences where the leadership team strives to undertake an honest appraisal of the opportunities and challenges facing the country. When mistakes are made, these should be talked about rather than being swept under the carpet.
5) Mobilise resources: In addition to assessing new (and realistic) avenues for effective mobilisation of domestic revenue, the government must also undertake a rigorous analysis of available external finance and associated conditionalities. While there is a real risk of reduced availability of aid in the near future, there are also concerns over growing national debt.
6) Be prepared to lose the next elections: Jumpstarting development in Malawi requires bold decisions, some of which may be unpopular. Longer-term and sustainable policies should be prioritised in place of those aimed at securing short-term political gains.