I have read with interest comments that there was in fact nothing new in President Joyce Bandaâ€™s speech at the opening of the budget session of the National Assembly on Friday 18th May 2012. Well, I guess it really depends on what you want to interpret the speech by.
For me, I thought there were several key areas that heralded significantly new areas of focus by the government. Having said that, I have to confess that I was not particularly looking for novelty or newness in ideas by the President. Yes, we should sometimes ask for new things. But we cannot always think new is good. For a very long time, a presidentâ€™s speech did not contain the vitriol towards the citizens, donors and development partners and tiankhwezule. This to me, is new. But if you look at what development projects this country is willing to pursue, the list is not entirely new.
A major difference between President Banda and Mutharika is the latter had a much longer time period in the office, was thinking beyond 2014 (e.g. constructing five new universities in the next ten years), while Banda has to be modest, noting that the current mandate is for two years. I would have loved to be excited with a litany of “My government will do this and that.” But I am content with the modesty of the task set, which assures me of achievability. People always suggest that objectives must be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. I add, SMARTEAS: specific, measurable, realistic, time-bound, evaluable, affordable and sustainable. Ladies and gentlemen, having introduced this acronym, am I now going to get an honorary doctorate from some university?
Talking about new things, the President has suggested that her government will remove the “ban” on homosexuality. I am not writing here to agree or disagree with her. What I want to know, however, is whether this is the corporate stand of the Peoplesâ€™ Party, or this is just the idea from cabinet or it is the Presidentâ€™s own decision without the support of her party or Cabinet. This is important to know because if it is a one-womanâ€™s idea, people will appear to buy into it now and should President Banda cease being President, we would be rushing to change the stance once again.
Secondly, the idea to decriminalise homosexuality is in clear conflict with what the DPP had always stood for. For the first time in many years, here we have a chance as a nation to be presented two alternatives, one party that wants to ban homosexuality and another that does not want to do so. This is what we call choice.
Another new thing I think that needs commenting on is the reversion to the old post-independence flag. We had argued changing flags was wasteful. Do we think the same now? Is the government going to consult the public as some of us had demanded of the DPP before the flag change? Should this be a priority now? Are we not at risk of being a country that changes its flags depending on who is in power?