Allow me to join hands with Idriss Ali Nassah who recently wrote on this page about the curse of the Malawi presidency. I want to add another hidden demon that curses our presidents. This demon is called, “Presidential Immunity”. Every Malawian president who comes into office meets this marauding demon. Immunity of the president means that she or he cannot be summoned by any court of law while in office.
This means that Malawi presidents can lie, steal and commit any mistake imaginable, but they can never be guilty until the expiry of their term of office. But is that right? This demon bites our leaders progressively as they show us hope in their early stages of office but lose ground when power begins to corrupt them. To err is human and any democratic State cannot embrace this law if they want their country to progress.
The immunity imprisons all presidents after they leave office. The country’s first president the late Hasting Kamuzu Banda was arrested after leaving office, so too did Bakili Muluzi while the late Bingu wa Mutharika would also have followed the same path if God had spared his life. I doubt if this immunity is not opening prison doors and gnashing its teeth against our incumbent?
The presidential immunity kills the spirit of checks and balances, it wipes out real responsibility and accountability of any leader. It propagates abuse of office and affects many people working under the President. If the leader is irresponsible, his or her followers are likely to abuse their office as they are covered by immunity.
Malawi is tired of paying huge sums of money in compensation through leaders’ mistakes. A lot of resources are spent on court cases after the leaders leave office and are being held accountable for their plunder of the same.
Remember how this dictatorship old law covered culprits who snatched livestock, money, even women during the one party era under the pretence that the President had sent them? Citizens could not challenge it for fear of their lives. Although Kamuzu Banda confessed after conceding defeat that he did not always send them, and asked for forgiveness, one still wonders if he did not know what was happening while he was in office.
Yes, the President’s immunity creates abuse of office, irresponsibility, unaccountability, corruption and fraud, pride and deaf ears to citizens’ outcry. If my leader is immune from prosecution by the law, how can he or she condemn those who serve him or her if they are engaging in corruption or any other form of abuse of office? Indeed, the immunity, though only accorded to the President, has a ripple effect. It causes government workers to be irresponsible and abuse their own offices because they know they will not be taken to task—after all, they bask under the shadow of immunity. Whoever touches them touches the President and as a result, fear rules and not the law.
Democracy is governed by the rule of law. It is government of the people, for the people and by the people and as such, all must live equally under the law for justice and equality. This is the only way we can develop.
In the USA, former president Bill Clinton was sued by his secretary Monica Lewinsky while in office. At the end of his term, he was a free man. If it were here, our court system would have waited for the end of the President’s term of office, five to 10 years, to prosecute them. This law is not only undemocratic and irresponsible, but it also does not make sense.
Leaders who cannot take responsibility can never develop any nation. In a mature democracy, the President is the caretaker of every person in a nation. He or she ought to focus on the welfare of his citizens and listen to the people.
The President ought to be highly accountable and love the media as the responsible mouthpiece and reflector of his or her own success or challenges. The media becomes the President’s eyes. In a mature democracy, the media and citizens are not afraid to call a spade a spade. To say that “Mfumu siilakwa” (the chief never errs) is a black lie for to err is human and any leader is only human.
Thus, the President’s immunity shall remain the greatest threat to accountability and development, and it shall lead all our presidents to jail after their terms of office expire. To avoid this, let us review this undemocratic and imperial law. Malawi is a very rich nation in terms of natural resources but without wisdom and accountability we will continue retrogressing. Let this law be repealed. Let us save our presidents and our resources. n
The author is head of Charismatic Renewal Ministries.