Hon Folks, when you look in the mirror and see a puss-filled pimple on your face, you do not break the mirror. Instead, you attend to the ugly swell on your face so that when you look in the mirror again, you will be delighted to see how pretty you look.
My grandparents who never went to school taught me this kind of reasoning. Your old folks too may have told you something along the same lines, something like a bad carpenter quarrels with his tools.
But it is amazing that what my old folks were able to see while sitting on a mat of illiteracy in the village, the folks in government, who rabidly chase even after honorary academic accolades, are unable to see while standing on a Capital Hill vantage point of power.
Their actions follow the logic: break the mirror if it shows the pimple on your face. All along, perception surveys by Transparency International (TI) have revealed high levels of corruption but folks at the Capital Hill have simply dismissed such findings as preposterous instead of sharpening its weapons against fraud and corruption.
Now Malawians—especially the majority poor—are gnashing their teeth as poverty and hunger throw savage punches at their soft underbellies in the aftermath of Cashgate through which hundreds of billions of kwacha were stolen from government coffers between 2009 and 14, leading to a freeze on budgetary support and donor-ditching of Account Number One, opting for off-budget support.
Instead of stitching the holes to regain the confidence of both the tax-payer and the donor, the government is selling the yarn that patriots should rejoice that we are on course to attaining the most important thing after political independence—economic emancipation.
How does the issue of economic independence arise when inflation and interest rates have stuck high up in the blue skies, when economic growth is so paltry that poverty is getting worse by the day and when more than 70 percent of the population are food insecure? Isn’t it a fact that government is so broke that funding to some of its agencies is erratic, thereby compromising service delivery?
Which brings me to another major example of mirror breaking—the entrenched culture of secrecy in government. When public hospitals were hit by food and drug shortage last year, government gagged hospital officials from talking to the media, saying all matters relating to public health should be channelled to a spokesperson at the Ministry of Health (MoH) headquarters.
Now that the misery and deprivation that comes with failure by government to raise funds for its operations has spread to virtually all ministries, departments and agencies, it is on record that government is busy threatening civil servants—from principal secretaries to low rank drivers and messengers—with punishment, including dismissal, if caught divulging public information.
Hello, these are not spies and the information they share, unless classified, ultimately belongs to the people of Malawi, the major stakeholders in our democracy who must be well informed in order to properly manage their democracy, including addressing the question of whether or not to renew the tenure of anyone holding a public office, from the President, the MP to the Councillor.
I know that the good reason for gagging government workers is to ensure that the information relayed to the public is correct and reflect the position of government on the matter. The truth, though, is what is relayed by designated spokespersons is not necessarily true or accurate, either. It’s a spin whose value is that it reflects government position.
It is doctors and nurses on the ground, and not spokesperson for Health at the Capital Hill, who can tell what kind of challenges they face at a particular hospital. Likewise, it is teachers who can tell the type of challenges a particular school is experiencing, not a ministry spin-doctor at the Capital Hill.
Free press, of which I am a proud long-time member, thrives where journalists have access to whistleblowers and technical experts besides the spokespersons who, often do have only a superficial, if any at all, understanding of the issues.
If the oath of secrecy is intended to gag whistleblowers and technical experts from talking to the media, then the mirror-breaking culture in democratic Malawi is much worse than what used to prevail in the Soviet Union before the fall of the Berlin Wall. n