President Peter Mutharika has been busy—opening a district hospital here, visiting a grave there and attending to all manner of public events that somehow pass for developmental activities as it were.
I will not dwell on the merits and demerits of these internal travels that have uncharacteristically become frequent of late for this President.
I don’t know who the President is listening to these days, but it looks like someone has been whispering to him that he needs to be visible and he is taking the advice rather too seriously.
But that is a story for another day.
What I like out of the recent presidential events are the key messages that he is delivering in his speeches.
Take the one on drug pilferage during the opening of Nkhata Bay District Hospital recently.
The President delivered a stern and clear message that drug thefts, mostly perpetuated by some health workers, will not be tolerated.
Mutharika warned that if one is caught he or she will be sacked, prosecuted and jailed.
Just as is the case with the national budget, Malawi loses 30 percent of its drugs to pilferage.
These drugs leave public hospitals to land on benches or pharmacies of private individuals who sell them to Malawians whose very taxes were used to buy the medicines so that they can access them for free.
One thing though Mr. President: Prevention is better than cure. While I appreciate the spirit behind the threats issued from the comfort of the presidential bully pulpit, the tough rhetoric may not save the drugs.
What can protect the drugs are robust and water tight systems that should prevent someone from daring to steal as they would be caught.
Once effective systems are in place, controlling officers—from the district health officer (DHO), district commissioner (DC) and directors of central hospitals to the secretary for health at the ministry headquarters—should ensure that the systems are working through regular system performance audits as well as monitoring.
If the President were to push for the establishment of systems that work, he would not have to waste his breath and time issuing threats. The system would take care of everything.
That said, however, delivering of messages is one of the most important jobs of a State President because of the authority his words carry, the broad stage he is speaking from and the large audience that usually hangs to his every word.
That is why, again, the President is the best messenger for the messages that condemn the abductions and or killing of people with albinism.
And he has hammered that message over the past few days in ways that I hope will be effective. Indeed the folksy delivery of the Bakili Muluzi mode has already gained traction with a clip of his “zautsiru” albino message—which exposes how stupid it is to believe that people with albinism have natural charms for making one rich—has gone viral. It is a memorable clip that I hope will help reinforce the message.
Of course, I am not sure about dispatching the whole Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service on a study tour to Tanzania to learn how they dealt with the issue of albino killings.
This is an operational issue that a lower level commissioner directly involved in violent crime would do well in. It would be cheaper too.
Talking about presidential messaging, I would have expected that Mutharika would by now also be selling his agenda that is the 2016/17 National Budget to the Malawian people.
This is a politically difficult budget, especially in cases such as the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), the so-called affordable housing subsidy and malata initiative and his move away from the welfare State.
He has to explain to the people the basis for what his administration, through Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe’s recently presented budget, is trying to achieve.
The danger with the President leaving the budget to explain itself is that critics and political opponents—rightly or wrongly—will move in and fill the information void with their version of the budget.
Once that is done, the administration will be on the defensive throughout the debate and by the time they put out their information out there, the majority of the public could be hooked to the narrative they heard first.
You see, good policy-making is as good as good public opinion ratings. The President needs to win the support of the public to implement this difficult economic agenda he is pushing and he may do well to isolate the most important aspects of the budget and sell it to the public.
That is what political messaging for a party in power is all about: win the public’s support for your agenda or be damned.