A motley of human rights and political activists on Wednesday issued a 30-day ultimatum to President Peter Mutharika to deliver the moon, the stars and the sun itself.
The group—led by human rights activist Billy Mayaya and operating under the now ubiquitous but uncreative tag of Concerned Citizens—wants Mutharika, in 30 days, to improve the availability of medical supplies and drugs in public hospitals.
In 30 days, government should increase budgetary allocation to the health sector—around the same period when government is expected to slash public expenditure during the next Parliamentary sitting to comply with recommendations by the International Monetary Fund.
The government must also improve on accountability and transparency in the public sector—in 30 days. Government should expedite Cashgate cases in a non-partisan manner. In 30 days. The group, for good measure, also demanded Mutharika to construct a like-for-like replica of Noah’s Ark. In 30 days. Just pulling your leg on that one, but such was the absurdity and the naivety of their demands that Noah’s Ark would not have looked out of place.
I am, by no means, to play down the significance and the spirit of their anger, especially when the government organised a simultaneous counter-demonstration to justify the contentious delegation that went to New York for the United Nations General Assembly last month.
The Concerned Citizen may have a point when Parliament—considered a bulwark against an Executive that is increasingly turning insecure and could turn against its citizens at the drop of a hat—seems to have sipped from the same gourd of arrogance and its reputation is crumbling like a house of cards. Take, for instance, deputy speakers allowances’ scandal which remains unresolved due to political posturing between National Assembly and the government.
Add into the mix Speaker Richard Msowoya’s tetchy retort when asked about Parliament’s extravagance in buying top of the range vehicles in the midst of an oasis of despair: “I really marvel at the wisdom of anyone questioning about these vehicles. Are they saying we have to commute when on official assignments?” If that statement reminds you of anything, it is because it sounds like a diplomatic translation of Khumbo Kachali’s immortalised riposte bound about not eating at our mother’s houses.
Well, hundreds of thousands of Malawians commute everyday and there is no proof anywhere that their contribution to national development is any less than the riders of the fuel guzzling 4x4s.
Mayaya and his friends may have a point to protest for transparency, especially from a government that stands on a high moral ground demanding tightening of belts from all else—including the National Assembly—when it sent a delegation of village headmen, drum beaters and presidential portrait carriers to the UNGA and has not come clean how that comes close to tightening of belts. Decoys can serve government for so long.
I can understand Mayaya and his friends’ frustration on these and other matters. But no amount of solitary placard waving, weekly demonstrations, ultimatums and threats of anarchy will buy drugs to cure the sick nor will they solve entrenched lack of transparency. Otherwise, you risk sounding like a tedious song, which only the deejay understands, playing all night long at a party.