“In any political system of the world there is a divide between political promises and what is delivered. The problem in Malawi is that the divide is too big. This undermines the confidence people have in the leadership and institutions of the country. In my mind, Malawi has plenty of strategies and policies, but needs to put more emphasis on implementing what has been decided.”
This was Kikkan Haugen, the Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi in an interview.
From Bakili Muluzi to the late Bingu wa Mutharika; from Joyce Banda to Peter Mutharika—these folks have promised the moon, but delivered paraffin-powered lamps to illuminate a darkening country.
Muluzi even went as far as promising pairs of shoes for every Malawian, only to insult our collective national intelligence by wondering how we expected him to buy shoes for everyone when he did not even know how big our feet were.
Well, I always muse, only a Malawian leader can promise that which is impossible and doing so knowing well he is lying. I mean, this is the same fellow who promised a bridge connecting Nkhata Bay and Likoma Island. That too faded away.
Bingu had his own share of unfulfilled promises, including one to a little girl in Karonga who he promised to educate, only to ignore her for years before taking his promise to his expensive grave at Ndata in Thyolo.
Joyce Banda—that blue-eyed dreamer currently holed up in self-imposed exile from her shadows like the Alice in Wonderland that she appears to be—was also great at promises.
Among several, like Bingu, she shattered the hopes of another little girl from Ndirande to whom she promised to pay for her education. She disappeared with that solemn pledge and with it the girl’s hopes and dreams.
Our learned law professor Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) manifesto was, in my view, the best among the so-called top four political groupings in the May 2014 Tripartite Elections.
It was much deeper and seemingly well thought out than that of Lazarus Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Banda’s People’s Party (PP) and United Democratic Front’s (UDF) Atupele Muluzi.
The Shire-Zambezi Waterway, the pet project for the President’s late brother Bingu, was supposed to be aggressively pursued into completion.
You would expect to see tremendous progress. What meets your heat-dogged eyes in Nsanje are vandalised steelworks, a drying up supposed port and the shattered dream of a man who claimed to fill his nights with technicolour visions turned wishful thinking.
The project, which was supposed to turn the Lower Shire district of Nsanje into a port city, is in ruins. The old man must be frowning hard from his fancy final resting place.
APM just didn’t see it through.
On his part, APM was supposed to trim presidential powers, especially those concerning appointments of heads and senior executives of ministries, departments and agencies.
In a public relations coup, the administration proceeded to announce his approval and was rewarded with back-patting across the political divide.
No sooner had he approved that he would let an independent public body to effect key appointments did we start hearing about the need to change certain laws to enable the President proceed to relinquish those powers.
I haven’t heard of any law being crafted to facilitate this statesmanship that Mutharika signaled strongly that he would walk with after approving the recommendation from his own Public Service Reform Commission headed by Vice-President Saulos Chilima. As we speak, it still “pleases His Excellency the President” to appoint so and so into this and that comfy, mouthwatering and powerful position.
There are so many examples of promises just ignored or half-heartedly implemented, if at all, just to save face in the rare cases where human decency grips them enough to fill guilty about their lies.
That culture also spreads to MDAs, who fail to execute programmes and projects duly approved at national level, leading to lost opportunities for growing the economy, meaningfully cutting poverty and improving human development.
In the year, a senior public sector economist—Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Naomi Ngwira no less—slammed the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development for lacking commitment in implementing various agriculture programmes the government is convinced are necessary for transforming the sector and the economy in general.
For example, the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) is a crucial initiative that technocrats at the ministry have grossly mismanaged.
The Green Belt Initiative (GBI) and the now expanded irrigation programme are initiatives that are failing to fully take off the ground simply because of inertia.
We peddle too many good excuses for our failures as a country. As my boss likes to say, “Do the right thing, don’t sell the right excuse”.
This is advice Capital Hill can greatly benefit from.
And of course, those folks up there should promise that which they can deliver and then deliver what they have promised their voters even if it is just half of it, it would make a lot of difference. n