Almost two years into the administration of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, all indications are that the party has strayed from its campaign promises, especially those that touch on reducing presidential powers and could cause it to lose popularity with its electorates, political analyst Boniface Dulani has observed.
Launched in April 2014 titled: ‘Towards a people-centred government’, an analysis of the manifesto shows that the DPP government is shying away from making tough decisions, especially on law and administrative reforms in the Executive.
The DPP government promised to reduce concentration of power in the presidency, especially on appointing and removing heads of accountability institutions such as the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the Auditor General (AG), the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Clerk of Parliament (CoP).
Only on Thursday, the DPP parliamentarians successfully rejected a Private Member’s Bill to remove powers to appoint the ACB director and deputy from the President to the Public Appointments Committee to enhance the bureau’s independence.
And in the last quarter of 2015, Mutharika used his presidential powers to veto the recommendation of the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) for the position of CoP and a messy court battle followed between the Executive and members of Parliament.
According to Section 16 of the Parliamentary Service Act, the position is advertised by the PSC, which also carries out interviews but a CoP is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the commission.
In the case of the new CoP, PSC recommended to the President that the candidate who excelled in the interviews, Justice Charles Mkandawire should be appointed, but Mutharika vetoed the recommendation and opted for Fiona Kalemba who came third.
However, the court sided with the Executive on the decision, arguing that his presidential powers were not limited to endorsing a recommendation.
The DPP also promised that merit would be observed in appointments and removal of chief executive officers and board members of parastatals, but Malawians remain in the dark on the movements of heads for Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra), Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) and Malawi Posts Corporation (MPC).
A proposal by the Public Service Reform Commission that public offices such as the Attorney General, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, Chief Secretary to Government, Inspector General of Police and Commander of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) should follow the presidential tenure of office has been scrapped after the public, including Malawi Human Rights Commission, argued that this would compromise the independence of the offices.
The DPP promised that once elected it would abolish the coupon system and make subsidised fertiliser available for every maize subsistence farmer that needs it but two years down the line, six million coupons were printed to cater for 1.5 million beneficiaries while redesigning Farm Input Subsidy Programme is proving to be a problem with donors who have since abandoned the seed component.
The Greenbelt Initiative, under which 11 000 hectares were supposed to undergo irrigation, has faced land availability hiccups.
President Peter Mutharika declared at the launch of the manifesto in 2014 that “there shall not be Cashgate scandal under the DPP”, but now it has simply worn a new face.
Just recently, 63 health workers in the Ministry of Health were suspended and the United States of America government has threatened to suspend funding to the HIV/Aids as well as malaria programmes unless the workers are prosecuted.
The abused funds were, according to the US government, provided as part of a five-year agreement between the US Centre for Disease and the Ministry of Health where $2.2 million was given annually to fund management of the national HIV programme, including operational expenses of the HIV Department, national health worker trainings, routine health facility supervision and drug quantification, and HIV-related information systems and surveys.
Hundreds of civil servants defrauded the government with double pay on salaries and allowances in several ministries between 2012 and 2014.
On education, the party had promised to repair and upgrade old schools and build new ones so that no child should be walking more than five kilometres to attend school, but in the 2015/16 financial year, the government implemented a K500 million budget cut in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to reduce expenditure at the expense of increases in less crucial sectors such as foreign affairs and defence and security which enjoyed budget increases in billions of kwacha.
The K500 million was meant to go towards teaching and learning materials for secondary schools and upgrading community day secondary schools.
Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe said on Friday that the DPP manifesto was highly ambitious promising quality, self-reliance and access to education.
“They said they would build new schools, upgrade CDSSs, but the government has slowed down on this. We wonder whether DPP has already attained what they aspired when they can manage to cut half a billion kwacha from the education budget,” said Kondowe.
He added that apart from upgrading CDSSs to conventional secondary school level, the government had planned to roll out the new secondary school curriculum but there’s still shortage of textbooks especially science subjects.
On health, the party’s vision was of modernised and better equipped hospitals and health centres, but what has followed is breakdown in hospital equipment such as CT scans and shutting down of dialysis units in referral hospitals coupled with shortage of essential drugs as government grapples with an inefficient procurement system.
The promise to double exports in the next five years is also faltering as the 2015/16 trade gap continues to widen owing to poor demand for Malawi’s products which remain predominantly agricultural, and tobacco in particular.
In 2015, the country’s key exports slumped by 10 percent, down from $1.75 billion in 2014 to $1.58 billion and the outlook for 2016 is bleak as the kwacha has started gaining value.
Dulani, who is political administration lecturer at Chancellor College in Zomba, has warned parties to realise that election manifestos are not just documents to fly about to woo voters, but a blueprint of an oncoming government.
He observed that the DPP government would not be doing justice to Malawians who voted it into power if the party starts going back on its word as early as two years into administration.
“This is the time for the DPP to correct what has been done wrong in the past. This means they have to live up to the promises they made and make sure they deliver. It was the DPP which came up with the manifesto to woo voters not Malawians,” said Dulani.
He also called out President Peter Mutharika for suddenly refusing to assent to any Bill that aims at trimming his powers as president when he and other presidential candidates were outspoken on such plans prior to May 20 2014.
“It is clear that the DPP and Mutharika himself are no longer to deliver on what they promised. Sadly, this is what political parties believe that Malawians will not provide checks and follow up. But now is the time to make the follow ups,” he said.
While the DPP has shied away from tackling thorny campaign promises, it has successfully implemented those which caught the attention of Malawians for their uniqueness such as limiting the size of the Cabinet to 20, implementing the Malata and Cement subsidy and establishing community colleges.
Responding to Nation on Sunday’s observations, Minister of Information Jappie Mhango said such issues should be directed to the DPP spokesperson Francis Kasaila. But Mhango’s office has previously responded to queries regarding the party on the basis that the party was government.
However, Mhango said: “Be reminded that the DPP was given a five-year mandate in which to implement its manifesto. Currently, the party has been in power for less than two years and you surely would not expect it to implement the whole of its manifesto within this short period. The manifesto has policies that require short-term, medium-term and, indeed, long-term to implement.”
As we went to press, Kasaila, who asked for a questionnaire, had not responded yet. n