Look, I know that by the end of the day the buck stops with the President as Malawi’s chief executive officer (CEO).
He chose—no one begged him—to offer himself for election so that he becomes the Head of State and Government of the Republic of Malawi.
I doubt that then candidate Peter Mutharika had any inkling of what was in store for him once he enters the gates of Kamuzu Palace and put his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stalwarts in charge of Capital Hill.
He could not, for the life of him, imagine that once the euphoria of winning and the satisfaction of getting rid of People’s Party (PP) and Joyce Banda who he believes stole the presidency from right under his nose was over, he would be confronted with the toughest job on earth.
Where would he begin? The Treasury was empty, swept clean by thieves under both his brother Bingu wa Mutharika administration where Peter himself was, first as a senior advisor, then Cabinet Minister and the Joyce Banda regime.
Donors—who for two years worshipped at Joyce Banda’s alter until billions were discovered to have been packed in car boots, roofs and other questionable places under her watch—were sitting on the fence, having frozen budgetary support soon after Cashgate was exposed in September 2013.
Worse, there has never been any love lost between DPP and the Western powers that traditionally funded 40 percent of Malawi’s national budget—they did not take too kindly to Bingu’s arrogance and bellicose language, especially when he threw out her Majesty’s High Commissioner to Malawi.
Meanwhile, the economy is tanking, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) was under-performing and people were getting angrier from the rising cost of living.
No, APM certainly had no idea that the pressure, media glare and criticism would be so harsh and shrill.
But he is there now and he must be held responsible for everything that has gone wrong in this country. It is his economy now and it is his government.
True, he must shoulder the burden of turning around the economy, arresting the kwacha’s slide, bringing down inflation and interest rates, finding money to fund ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), stop the thieving in government and, yes, get the food to the people.
We are not saying he should do all these things personally. He cannot. It would be expecting too much from him. But leaders work through their people—in fact, their leadership mettle is judged by how well they can mobilize the people they have put into positions to deliver for them.
And if those people cannot deliver, the President should politely show them the door and give them a map to find the next river they can jump into. It is that simple really. So, yeah, the President is the Head of State and can be blamed for all the ills befalling this country. It comes with the territory.
But what we cannot do, should not do, is to push the President to directly intervene in the market and start dictating the prices of goods and services in the economy as the little known Social and Economic Justice Organisation (Sejo), reportedly based in Thyolo, did this week in petitioning President Mutharikato use his powers to control what they called “wild prices” created by vendors and instead declare a maximum price for maize.
Which powers? Where would the President draw powers to walk around markets dictating to vendors how much they should be selling their maize? Does he know where they got the maize, at how much and under what circumstances?
University of Malawi’s (Unima) Chancellor College economist Ben Kalua could not put it any better: “The President has no powers, he can’t do that [control prices] because traders are in business. They buy the commodity and have the control on their pricing.”
The point is, the President of Malawi has a lot of powers, some say too much, but when it comes to individual liberties, he is as helpless as the person sitting next to you in that minibus.
The crafters of our Republican Constitution made sure of that. Thus, the likes of Sejo have no business giving the President, whether out of ignorance or sheer bravado, any illusions about exercising powers he does not have and would not want to have.