That this government is taking Malawians for granted is well-known. It does not seem to have the slightest clue about how to handle sensitive issues that are hurting the people.
For example, the country is reeling from the pangs of power outages. Many businesses, both big and small have been negatively affected. We are talking about SMEs such as welding firms, barber shops, maize mills, tailoring shops, internet cafes, dairy industries, restaurants, bakeries, to bigger firms such as processing and manufacturing plants. They are all fast grinding to a halt. While bigger firms can use generators, the cost of running them is huge and is being passed on to the consumer who is feeling the pinch.
Take the 1 001 welding businesses that line the MI Road from Mbayani and Che Mussa to Lunzu or Chileka Airport in Blantyre, for example. They are the sole source of bread and butter for thousands of households. They have been booming with business. But not anymore! How are the households they have been supporting surviving? These days as you pass these SMEs, you feel like you are driving past graveyards.
The businesses only get power for eight hours and sometimes less, after enduring 25 hours of blackout. The only time they have power longer than eight hours is during off business hours—usually from 9pm to 7am—when they don’t really need it for business.
For the few bigger businesses which are running on diesel-powered gensets so that they don’t shut down completely, they do so at a huge cost. Yet, almost every day, you hear that either Escom or Egenco is in the process of procuring gensets.
As soon as you hear President Peter Mutharika assuring the nation Egenco is importing gensets to add several kW to the national power grid by December, an Egenco official comes around sweetening the talk that the said machines will be airlifted from China. But before long someone says electricity blackouts will come to an end in March. It’s lie after lie. There seems to be no coordination in what information to put in the public domain. Why should airlifting a genset from China take months?
Then, there is the flip-flopping on the part of government on many issues. This dithering creates the impression that the government is on auto-pilot. I am not saying everything should go to the President for his signature before implementation. But it does create a sense that all is not well in the way matters of State are being run when you announce a policy issue today only to reverse it the following day. Unfortunately, the buck stops at the President. These problems are happening on President Peter Mutharika’s watch. And so people are justified to say he is not helping them.
With no idea about when people will begin to have power in their homes and businesses for longer than half a day, now there is this debacle about the Electoral Reforms Bills. After promising the nation it will table the six bills in this sitting of Parliament, government has been adding salt to injury to say the proposed bills are not ready and will not be tabled. Government could not bulge even after the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) announced it would stage nationwide marches demanding that it tables the bills. Government has only softened after several organisations have put their weight behind the December 13 demonstrations. But even with such support, government, ill-advised as it is, still feels it can pull off something by promising to table only two of the six bills.
The two bills—the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, and the Referendum Bill that government has promised to table are not even the most important ones with regard to the 2019 elections. Those can wait. They are not worth spending a whopping K200 million taxpayers’ money for the one week’s extension Parliament needs to table them, if they are the only ones government wants to table.
The contentious bills relate to the amendment of Section 80 (2) of the Constitution—about when the president should be sworn-in after announcing results; and Section 96 of the PPE Act to provide for a change of the electoral system from a simple majority to a majority of more than 50 percent in the presidential race.
Government should come with the whole package of electoral reforms. On their part, PAC and opposition MPs, should not accept piece meal reforms. If government does not bring all the six bills, PAC should proceed with the marches as planned on December 13. Maybe that way this government will learn a lesson or two. My only appeal to PAC, its affiliates, collaborators and all marchers though, is that they should not allow mercenary forces, such as looters, to hijack the marches for their own personal gains.