Someone asked about a bridge at some corner of the Northern Region. Another gripped about a road, the Njakwa-Livingstonia-Chitimba one I think.
Yet more others talked of mundane things that councilors should be discussing at district, city and town council meetings—certainly not during a meeting with the Head of State.
Even that could be a stretch because I suspect some of the things they were putting forward could sit well either at a village development committee (VDC) meeting or an area development committee (ADC) gathering.
Yet, the folks that formed the Public Affairs Committee of Parliament (PAC) team that met President Peter Mutharika recently turned that platform into just that—a VDC, ADC, council or parliamentary meeting at best.
Remember these folks had insisted on meeting the President to present their recommendations from the so-called All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference in February this year that was really not inclusive at all in the first place.
The truth is that PAC conferences are the gathering of elitist folks who keep on claiming that they represent the common person.
Yet, these participants are not so common and the organisers don’t bother to invite the common person to these meetings where, after expensive meals, they discuss, among other things, the plight of that poor, hungry and angry villager who does not even know that some characters are congregating on his or her behalf in some expensive hotel feasting on sumptuous meals while discussing his or her hunger they really know nothing about.
But I digress.
No one should be in doubt about the important role PAC has played in Malawi’s democratic process following changes in the country’s geostrategic environment and the advent of political pluralism.
Founded in 1992, largely by the religious community and other pressure groups as a common voice during the difficult negotiations with then president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, PAC must rightfully take some credit for the peaceful transition from the one party State back to multi-party democracy. They earned it.
From the multi-party referendum in 1993 which proponents won to the multiparty elections in 1994 that the United Democratic Front scooped with Bakili Muluzi at the helm, PAC has played a crucial role.
The body has strived to remain the country’s moral and governance compass—promoting and jealously guarding the country’s fledgling democracy; preserving peace, fostering the spirit of dialogue on which the quasi-religious body was built and supporting as well as playing the watchdog role of the country’s development agenda. Through that, PAC has helped to hold governments accountable—from the administrations of Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and now Peter Mutharika. But today, PAC’s influence has, well, diminished.
There was a time when the voice of PAC used to set the agenda for the country, shape policy debate and direction. PAC’s was the most authoritative voice because they had earned that position, but now, sadly, they are losing it.
As far as I am concerned, PAC appears to have lost its mojo and intellectual moral standing that was the hallmark of its policy positions and guardianship.
Sure, elite folks still patronize its national conferences and their statements still make news, but it is mainly because the committee’s indabas are now a dais for political brinkmanship and grandstanding rather than a platform for serious exchange of ideas that suggests a new strategic direction for those in power and the country at large to look at with respect.
Granted, presentations are made and discussed on the economic and social political environment, but these are overtaken by the overly political and grandiose, if not empty, rhetoric whose high pitch shrills drown out serious people with serious issues to tackle.
And so, at the end of the PAC conference, the take home message remains unclear. That lack of clarity and shallow positions get reflected in meetings such as the one PAC leaders had with President Mutharika.
Most of what was coming out of the PAC leaders at the audience with the President was so shallow and mundane that one wondered whether these are the same folks that everyone thought are capable of looking at the bigger picture, not a few isolated projects and issues better left to the district commissioner.
They were not issues to waste precious time on when they should have been discussing big and broad ideas in a rare audience with the President that should help transform the whole country, not just a village, an area, district or region.
Some PAC leaders claimed that they lost their substance and grew petty because they were ambushed with a televised meeting.
Come on, these are men of collar who speak to the public every day in their prayer houses.
In fact, PAC says it speaks on behalf of Malawians, what better way to present their issues than through a platform that accords you to have the people you speak for watch you hold serious talks about serious problems with the President live on television?
No, it is not President Mutharika who lost an opportunity. It was PAC and the people it purports to represent.