Hon folks, earlier last weekend, President Lazarus Chakwera briefed the nation on his plan to contain the resurgent coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. People desperately wanted a containment strategy to protect Malawians and Chakwera delivered.
If the strategy is followed to the letter, it should balance the need to protect people’s lives without threatening their livelihoods. Previous containment strategies had the potential to undermine people’s economic interests and throw them in deep poverty.
Chakwera and his team of advisors have come up with a plan that can ensure people’s safety without causing severe disruptions to economic activity. The delivery was one of those rare moments when Chakwera matched his eloquence with actionable points.
However, it was at the end of the speech when the President chose to provide one of his trademark lessons on nomenclature where he lost the plot. Apparently, Chakwera does not want ‘politics’ to divert attention from the health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the President’s words, Malawi does not have “unlimited amounts of money to do with as we fancy” and told off some people, who I presume to be his perceived detractors, “are in the habit of making proposals that require billions in funds without stating where such funds will come from.”
The President went as far as to say that the pandemic required a change in priorities and told off his critics for their perceived obsession with politics.
Beneath the rhetoric, it is clear Chakwera is trying to use his definition of ‘politics’ to stave off accountability on the campaign promises he made as well as the size and performance of his Cabinet.
Frankly, backbenchers do not think that it is political for people to demand that Chakwera keep his campaign promises, particularly the one million jobs pledge. Thousands of jobs have been lost to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Not only that but we also have hospitals that do not have adequate resources, including personnel equipment and space to deal with the pandemic, when funds were allocated for that particular purpose. It does not bode well that most of those funds have not properly been accounted for.
And of course, Malawians are fully justified to ask why we have such a bloated Cabinet that is wasting billions of their hard-earned funds on politicians when, as Chakwera rightly puts it, the country does not have “an unlimited amount of funds” to deal with the pandemic.
Need we remind the President that this is the same Cabinet that Malawians deemed to be partisan, with most of the appointments made to appease the loyalists in his Tonse Alliance who aided his ascent to power?
If this Cabinet was the best he could offer Malawians based on the operational definition of ‘merit’, which did not account much for academic qualifications and experience, how come he is failing to execute his vision?
It is within their rights of Malawians to ask for a reshuffle and, perhaps, a leaner Cabinet to free up funds for more pressing and human-interest issues. Why not unappoint a few Cabinet ministers and use the billions they are spending on fuel and allowances to equip the health sector?
It is also ridiculous for Chakwera to tell Malawians that the ‘conditions’ in which he made those campaign promises “no longer hold”. Malawi was already in debt and in the middle of a pandemic when the promises were made in the run-up to the fresh presidential election last year.
If memory recalls, there were those who repeatedly questioned where the government would get the funds needed to create one million jobs in one year when it had failed for years to fill the vacancies in the civil service and parastatals.
It is, therefore, hypocritical for him to accuse people of him to accuse his critics of making proposals without accounting for where the funds would come from when he rose to power on the same kind of ‘politics’.
Hon folks, one of Chakwera’s 21 advisors should have the sense to point these things out to the President so that he does not have to hear them from, for lack of a better term, ‘critics’. The advisors are paid to do that, after all.
The President should stop trying to explain his gaffes by trying to teach what words denote which kind of acceptable conduct whenever he has a policy failure. He should realise that being accountable to the electorate is a part of the politics of his job as State President.