Hon Folks, Vice President Saulos Chilima cut a pose on New Year’s day that can only be highly symbolic. Frozen for posterity in a still picture is Chilima, clad in a chef’s attire, ready to serve others succulent chunks of meat.
The occasion wasn’t political. Chilima, a Catholic to boot, and congregants of St. Patrick’s Parish in Lilongwe were having a braai on January 1. On such occasions, prominent politicians expect, and are accorded, VIP treatment even by the Church. They don’t serve. They’re served, instead.
Chilima, the Vice-President, was serving!
He also used the occasion to offer to the rest of us food for thought on what’s needs to be done for elected leaders and the electorate to have braii together some day.
Much to the likely disdain of his conservative colleagues in government, Chilima openly spoke against elected leaders behaving like shareholders when they are in fact mere hired hands on predetermined fixed contracts.
Who’s the shareholder? The citizen, the electorate, the 17 million people who look to Malawi as their home. These are the ultimate “owners” of democratic Malawi who Chilima advised, should stop applauding mediocrity.
Instead, they should demand of their elected political leaders—be it the President, Vice-President or Leader of the Opposition—full accountability on how they use power and public resources entrusted to them.
Was the Vice-President on his own in all this? On social media the same question loomed large with some interpreting the dissolution of the Public Sector Reforms Commission which Chilima headed as a sign that he is in trouble for crossing the red line.
But could it really be that Chilima too has finally fallen from grace, a fate every Veep has faced since the advent of the multiparty political dispensation in 1994?
In his Christmas message which challenged Malawians to embrace change, Chilima described APM as a “resolved man…prepared to venture into the unchartered terrain…”
This gives a flicker of hope that Chilima may have the President’s support. However, championing a leadership built on the tenets of transparency and accountability is likely to meet strong resistance in government.
The status quo provides a safe haven to many deadwood in government who secure their tenure solely by providing unflinching loyalty to the President. It also runs counter to the view of political dinosaurs providing advice to the APM that power is there to be used, not relinquished.
But Chilima should draw comfort from the fact that the current political order does not allow for meaningful dialogue between governments on the one hand and other major stakeholders in our democracy—the opposition, civil society organisations and development partners—on the other.
The explosive reaction of traditional leaders to the newly-enacted land laws and the insistence of donors to give aid through off-budget channels despite government claims that it has improved the public finance management system serve to prove that change agents and the government aren’t on the same page. Change doesn’t thrive in such an environment.
Simply put, it’s more in the interest of DPP than Chilima to embrace change. Doing things the same way would more likely reduce than increase the number of votes for APM in 2019. He rose on 36 percent vote rate and both the economy and our living standards have been on the decline since the 2014 elections.
Banking largely on a tribal vote in 2019 would be too much of a gamble for APM. He needs a strategy that endears him to the majority who denied him the vote in 2014. He needs to embrace Chilima’s view on power. Ignoring it will