CHACHACHA MUNTHALI engaged Public Affairs Committee (PAC) executive director ROBERT PHIRI on a matter related to federalism which were covered in the recently issued report.
PAC recently issued a report which concluded that people in the country are not prepared for federalism, can you elaborate?
It’s true that PAC issued a report on federalism and inclusivity. What the report provides are findings based on consultations from national to regional level. PAC has not gone to district level. Therefore, the findings and analysis are based purely on the national and regional consultations. So too the report is not meant to stop any grouping or individual to discuss the issue. What PAC has done is to share its findings up to regional level. After all, stakeholders wanted to know what are the findings from consultations on federalism, and we have shared. It must also be appreciated that these findings were analysed from the flip charts which the delegates themselves presented to the consultants during conferences.
A suggestion has been that PAC ought to have conducted civic education to let respondents provide an informed opinion on the matter. Would you agree with that observation?
First, our view is that the demands for or against federalism implied that to a certain extent the concerned parties understood the federal system of government. That is why our objective was partly to enhance a common understanding on the issue, and conflict prevention so that we develop a common roadmap. Second, we were reliably informed that groups were undertaking civic education at district level. Third, having gone through the list of participants I note there was representation from the districts. In fact, we paid transport refunds to those who came from districts. This demonstrates that the groups might have reached these participants who were identified by the same groups. Fourth, during conferences the consultant shared some conceptual ideas on the federal system of government. However, it has become clear that there has been a mismatch of our goal and other stakeholders’ objectives. Following this development, civic education is required because it means it was not adequate.
What do you make of allegations by some federalism proponents who have accused PAC of lacking impartiality and that its findings were deliberately skewed in government’s favour?
First of all, let us be clear here. What PAC undertook was a consultation process at national and regional level. The responses in the flip charts we have were not filled by the government officials. Participants themselves provided information. As PAC there was no way we could shave somebody’s hair without his/her presence. We invited all interested groups under one roof. So where does impartiality arise?
As PAC, what do you think is the best system that would truly represent the aspirations of the people without anyone feeling left out?
Both systems—unitary and federal—may give you true representation. It depends on the tools of governance you put in place to avoid abuse of power. At the same time any system has its own advantages and disadvantages. By stating so, I am not saying we should therefore change or maintain the system. The decision rests in the hands of Malawians.
Some people have argued that a federalist state would ensure that the nation develops exponentially, what was your finding in that aspect during your research?
Our consultation process did not go into this question. It will be interesting to examine this question because it would guide what system of government can work better.
Obviously, the people agitating for federalism have been left unimpressed with the unitary system we have now, what would you suggest be done to appease them?
Regrettable though it stands, PAC could not doctor responses from the consultations. We had to respect various views. Nor has the report closed the debate. At the same time, it is difficult to follow an appeasement policy on such issues that have a bearing on the whole country. In its conclusion, the report has window for further discussions on the issue. It reads as follows: “The issuance of the report formally concludes the consultation process but it is not intended to gag any other person or groups of persons debating the question of federalism and inclusivity in Malawi.” In the above quotation, the phrase “consultation process” should be understood as a process up to regional level. From a programmatic point of view, this is what we know. As a way forward, dialogue with higher authorities would help. It seems that underneath federalism, there are issues that the State machinery and the nation as a whole should deal with. n