In this interview with JOHN CHIRWA, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo analyses President Peter Mutharika’s one and a half years into office and other issues.
Q:How do you asses President Peter Mutharika’s governance style one and a half years in office?
A: Our assessment is that Mutharika’s style of leadership is more of hypocrisy and uncertainty than maturity and vision. For instance, during his inaugural speech in 2014, he called on all and sundry to help him in developing the country through, among others, constructively criticising him and offering suggestions on how best to run the country.
Almost one and a half years later, the President seems averse to constructive criticisms. The [National Aids Commission] NAC-gate and Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) saga are good examples of his dislike for criticism. Secondly, the President keeps preaching maturity when, in actual sense, he almost live in extravagance. The bloated entourage that accompanied him to United Nations General Assembly [UNGA] and his failure to reduce his motorcade clearly mock his austerity talk. More importantly, Mutharika has failed to address numerous public service delivery challenges in health, education, electricity and water just to mention a few. Our economy is retrogressing mostly due to lack of sound leadership.
Q: As CSOs, are you satisfied?
A: Based on some of the misgivings highlighted above, we are not satisfied.
Q: What is the missing link in his leadership style?
A: His resort to cheap propaganda aimed at attacking well-meaning critics instead offering an open and honest roundtable for dialogue towards the country’s development is the greatest missing link in the current leadership. It seems the President enjoys being told by his team of advisers that he has enemies rather than patriotic critics in this country.
Q: Recently, the President resorted to shouting and banging of tables at a press conference-tendencies other quarters have described as signs of dictatorship. Do you share similar sentiments?
A: To a greater extent, yes. In any democracy, accountability and transparency are regarded as fundamental principles. As CSOs, we expect a democratically elected president to remain true to these principles by soberly offering justifications to the questions Malawians have. Thus, shouting and banging tables, as the President did at the recent press conference, shows he is avoiding accountability and transparency principles. That is not good for a nascent Malawian democracy.
Besides, Mutharika’s regime has shown vestiges of intolerance as clearly observed in our one year assessment where, for instance, he has used the NGO board and law to stifle the voice of the civil society, especially those deemed critical of government. All these are traits of a dictator in making.
Is it fair to label the President as such based on one or a few incidents?
You may wish to know that during the January 13 protests where CHRR and other civil society organisations (CSOs) presented a petition to the President for action, the Malawi leader has, to date, not offered any response, let alone acknowledging receipt of the petition. Even calls for government to constitute a dialogue platform between CSOs and government in our January 13th demonstration 22-point petition where the issues raised in the petition and beyond would be discussed was trashed and ignored and even to date we are yet to get any response from government. These scenarios plus the recent shouting and table banging are clear signs that the President is becoming a dictator.
Do you think these are his true colours?
If what we have so far seen is anything to go by, then we may be forced to believe that these may be his true colours, unless he proves us otherwise, Malawians may have no choice but to jealously guard against such dictatorial conduct for the sake of our democracy. The incumbent is trying to take the nation back to the dark days of 2009-2012 era when critics were called all sorts of names and treated with a heavy hand.
It seems people are now focusing on the President’s anger rather than the events surrounding his trip to the UNGA. As CSOs, don’t you think you are obsessed with trivia instead of digging out the truth on pertinent issues like his recent trip?
I think it is not true that we have not been digging out the truth on pertinent issues of the trip. All along, we have been challenging the President to publish the list of the UNGA delegates with full details of who supported who but we have got no response. All the President has done is merely telling everyone, including the media off on the matter. In the absence of Access to Information Act, we lack a proper avenue to push for more details on the matter. Secondly, reacting to the President’s anger can never be described as focusing on trivial. The conduct the President showed during the press conference has no room in a democracy. As such, there was need to swiftly condemn the conduct in all possible manner.
What should be done for the President to revert to a leader who is transparent and accountable to the electorate?
In the first place, the President should stop believing that there are Malawians who do not wish his government well. I know there are some advisers to the President who enjoy antagonising him against his well-meaning critics, especially those of us in the civil society. I urge the President to consider taking advice from even those outside government. Secondly, the President must consider holding monthly press conferences-not costly development rallies—to update Malawians on what government is doing and planning to do to develop the country. We, at CHRR, believe press conferences offer better accountability and transparency mechanisms than development rallies.