Honourable Folks, in 2004 the late Bingu wa Mutharika pledged to adopt a zero-tolerance for corruption policy and won the hearts of 64 percent of the electorate that denied him the vote in the May presidential polls that year.
He was instead an instant enemy of the 36 percent of the electorate—especially the UDF leadership—on whose ticket he ascended to the State House on first-past-the-post basis.
Fast-forward to May 2014 Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, the younger brother to Bingu, also gets elected as State President again by 36 percent of the electorate on a promise that there would be zero-tolerance for corruption.
The difference this time is that the majority who denied him the vote aren’t even ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. The APM administration was forced to adopt what it described as the “zero aid” budget following the withdrawal of donor aid in 2014 after the media exposed the massive plunder of public revenue codenamed the Cashgate.
Aid accounted for up to 40 percent of the National Budget. While government employees are aware that their employer is in trouble and consequently had to make drastic cuts on many of its budget lines, while they are also fully aware that government failed to realise its targets for tax revenue in the first quarter of the 2014/15 fiscal year, they nevertheless are demanding pay hikes that can only aggravate its woes.
It all started with civil servants rejecting the 24.4 percent increase provided for in the budget and government, fearing the prospects of a nationwide strike, buckled and offered them up to 45 percent.
As if oblivious to the plight of the government, folks in the Judiciary downed their tools, demanding from the cash-strapped government huge pay hikes and mouth-watering perks. Now the Legislature has joined the bandwagon.
Public university members of staff have also ganged up to collectively demand a huge pay hike from government. As I asked two weeks ago, in the public sector the question is: Who’s next?
On the part of civil society, the currently hottest potato is the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) which has threatened to mobilise disgruntled Blantyre City residents who have gone for months without water, to camp at Blantyre Water Board premises until water is restored in the industrial capital of Malawi with a population of about a million people.
Other CSOs have issued press statements, bashing government for the ever rising cost of living, its failure to create job opportunities for the soaring numbers of the youth graduating from schools and colleges and delays in the implementation of APM’s campaign promises to expedite Cashgate cases and extend subsidy to cement and iron sheets.
All this points to a bumpier ride for APM and his government as they scale the remaining 54 months of the President’s first term. But these folks are peddling a canoe where we all belong and if it sinks, we all perish. Which is why, I’m compelled to ask if the demands we are making on government aren’t suicidal.
If we are genuinely incensed by the prospects of another 50 years without much to show for it, then the Judiciary, the Legislature and the intelligentsia should stop making ridiculous demands for VXs and 48 percent pay-hikes from a government that’s obviously broke and start leading the masses in demanding of APM the transformational leadership needed to fix our economy.
The stories that we read every day in newspapers show corruption is so entrenched in our society that our leaders raise eyebrows when told that its wrong to confuse policy on the media with K50 000 handouts or to demand or “ask” from NAC for funding for causes, good though they may be, that have nothing to do with fighting HIV and Aids.
Investors push and push for our bureaucracy to accommodate them until they give up and take their capital elsewhere. Very few in government would spend long hours in the office to seal such deals. Majority would first want to know: what’s in it for me?
We need to demand that APM and his government should fix this nonsense and ensure every tambala collected from poor Malawians is used effectively for the intended purpose. VXs, pay hikes, free housing, etc, should wait, if we know what’s good for us and our own children who have nowhere else but Malawi to call home. n