Eleven presidential candidates tonight turned up to be interviewed by Malawians through the second in a series of debates, but most of them failed to articulate how they would implement the brilliant ideas they put across.
The aspirants seemed lost on policy and legislation already available on issues such as investment climate, child justice and development and mining.
During the second presidential debate held at the Bingu International Conference Centre (Bicc) in Lilongwe, incumbent President Joyce Banda of People’s Party (PP) stayed away yet again whereas On Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Davis Katsonga of Chipani Cha Pfuko (CCP) and George Nnensa who is leading the Tisintha Alliance, who also missed the first debate, turned up.
The trio joined Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Kamuzu Chibambo of the People’s Transformation Party (Petra), Prof John Chisi of Umodzi Party (UP), Friday Jumbe of New Labour Party (NLP), Mark Katsonga Phiri of People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front (UDF), James Nyondo of National Salvation Front (Nasaf) and Helen Singh of United Independent Party (UIP) who made history last week by attending the first ever presidential debate.
From the onset, the presidential candidates could not adequately respond to how their governments would improve the integrity of the civil service with Singh, for example, believing that tapping into the expertise of retired personnel would solve the challenges that led to the massive theft of public resources at Capital Hill dubbed Cashgate.
Some of the candidates could not provide facts and figures to support their arguments and provided empty arguments full of rhetoric.
For example, Nyondo, who in the first debate blamed most of the country’s social ills on political interference through involvement of technocrats in administration of civil service, yesterday proposed that theft by a public servant should incur a maximum sentence of 20 years instead of the current 14 years provided in Section 78 of the Penal Code.
While Chakwera believed politicisation of the civil service and lack of regularisation of party financing were key problems affecting the integrity of the civil service, his fellow hot contender, Mutharika said lack of enforcement of rules and regulations had resulted in the ills in the public service.
On the same issue, Atupele said: “Delivery of quality people-centred service is key. We need to create a system in which Malawians give feedback and one which enables reinvestment and reorientation of training programmes to ensure accountability to Malawians.”
Chakwera, Nnensa and Katsonga Phiri agreed that employing civil servants on merit with regulated powers and responsibilities was the answer.
But all the candidates fell short of describing how they would carry out their brilliant ideas.
Mutharika, who seemed to be swimming in deep waters, joined the 10 other candidates in suggesting that reducing donor dependence needed to be done from a larger scale than simply concentrating on budgetary support which continued to dwindle depending on adherence to donor conditions on governance.
Once again, the second debate was largely devoid of lighter moments and candidates such as Nyondo and Chibambo, who entertained the audience before, did not perform as expected.
On child protection and development, most of the candidates believed the available laws were inadequate without elaborating on specific gaps that are in the existing legislation such as the Child Protection and Justice Act which provides for penalties for child trafficking and parental negligence.
And on the contentious topic of abortion, Chakwera trod carefully and resisted stepping on people’s feet by suggesting that the life of the unborn child and that of the mother needed to be treated differently.
On child development, Mutharika, speaking in not so good Chichewa, made four points which included: “No girl should travel five kilometers to school, but also there should be less nuclear family structures. Youths should not have multiple boyfriends or girlfriends to reduce contracting Aids.”
But Mutharika could not explain how his government would ensure that this is implemented.
In another instance, in response to a question on creating a conducive business environment to attract foreign direct investment, Chakwera predicted that Malawi could become a middle income country by 2024, but fell short of stating how this would be done except to say portrayal of the country in the media played a part.
The candidates also seemed not aware that the 2012 Business Licensing Act introduced a maximum of seven days for the business licensing process but also set $250 000 as minimum capital investment for foreign-owned businesses to protect indigenous business owners.
Singh spoke for the rest of the candidates when she declared that it would not be easy to implement the majority of ideas generated during the debate, but she still believed UIP was committed to achieving all of them.
The moderator, the Reverend Patrick Semphere, once again failed to bring life into the debate, largely dubbed as a panel discussion, due to his monotonous voice and strict adherence to the debate guidelines. He also misrepresented the contribution of donors in the development budget as being 40 percent and had to be corrected by Mutharika who said donors fund about 87 percent of the development budget and 40 percent of the recurrent budget.
Organised by a consortium of organisations among them Malawi Electoral Commission, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and chaired by Media Institute of South Africa (Misa-Malawi) with funding from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and UKAid, the final debate takes place in Blantyre on May 6.