Next month, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will have clocked a year in office. Being a party that promised a lot in its manifesto, EPHRAIM NYONDO begins the ‘DPP’s one year on’ series by taking a look at how the party has fared in fulfilling some of its key governance promises.
The 60-paged manifesto document launched in February last year could not, arguably, be singled out as the wand that returned DPP into power.
In a country where political choice is heavily linked to sectionalism, the role of manifestos, noted Chancellor College political scientist Boniface Dulani, is quite minimal in influencing choice.
However, most experts almost got united in thought when they described the DPP manifesto document as rich, detailed and well-thought out.
Carrying the banner of ‘Towards a People-centred Government’ which the party argued is a bloodstream in restoring Malawians’ lost confidence in government, the manifesto outlined sweeping promises that, on paper, looked credible and promising.
Being a party that, between 2009 and 2012, was leading a country with all signs of a failed State, their campaign promises, experts noted, carried a tone of reformation. Indeed, the tone was that of a party that had learnt from history and appealed to Malawians to share their vision.
Their vision, of course, had not deviated much from the one Bingu wa Mutharika started in 2004. In fact, it is just an extension. It reads: “Our collective vision is our country transformed from being a predominantly importing and consuming country to a predominantly producing and exporting country; and a food self-sufficient country where hunger is eliminated, and our agricultural primary commodities, other raw materials and minerals transformed, in the process creating jobs and new wealth for our people”.
However, noting that the vision is hardly attainable without good governance, the party made many promises that stopped at changing how government is run.
But what were some of these promises and, one year on, how are they faring?
- Effective public service
One of the key governance areas that DPP emphasised was the management of the public service. The party argued that Malawi’s public service is largely inefficient, making it a burden, not an asset, to implementing government projects. In a quest to make it efficient, the party promised that, if elected, “there will be re-instilled confidence of Malawians in themselves and belief in their government”.
The party added that “it will run a professional and results-oriented government, respecting Public Service Rules and Regulations, and ensure accountability”.
To achieve that, among others, DPP promised to “cut off unnecessary positions, reorganise the public service and ensure provision of strategic direction under one Principal Secretary in each Ministry”.
One year on, the milestone in the party’s quest for an effective public service has been the launch of the Public Service Reforms on February 10 this year. The reforms—developed by a committee of eminent Malawians and led by Vice-President Saulos Chilima—details expectations from various public sectors to the extent that leading ministries entered into contracts to reaffirm their commitment to the reform process.
Of course, there have been quick wins. For instance, in a quest to ensure that public servants concentrate on their core duties, principal secretaries, chief executive officers of public institutions and other senior public officers were directed to only attend those presidential and other functions where their presence is necessary or relevant to their duties.
Not only that.
Female civil servants, these days, have been directed not to attend public functions, except where it is an anniversary, commemoration or celebration that is directly related to their profession or organisation. In such cases, the controlling officers have been directed to exercise strict discretion for their participation in the activities.
However, all in all, much about the Public Sector Reforms, as noted by Chancellor College associate professor Happy Kayuni, has been paper work. In a country where 79 other reforms have failed to come to fruition, the next four years will be quite interesting to see how DPP will evade that history.
- The Cabinet philosophy
In their quest for a new governance philosophy, DPP promised sweeping changes in the organisation of the Cabinet. Their promise was to have a 20-member Cabinet, including deputies, whose appointment will be based on ‘merit, interviews and vetting by Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC)”. The party argued that “this is a level that can be adequately supported by our own resources’ and added that ‘it is unrealistic to expect our budget to finance a grossly oversized government”.
One year on, the party, perhaps for the first time in history, has lived to its promise by maintaining a 20-member Cabinet. The single instance of a reshuffle came only a week ago and, again, it did not bring in new faces, but just switched same-old faces in some ministries. Quite commendable.
Despite that, the current Cabinet was heavily criticised for it was seen to be dominated by people from the Southern Region and gender insensitive, having only two women.
But President Peter Mutharika defended his Cabinet, arguing it was selected on merit, although most analysts noted that the appointments were not subjected to ‘interview and vetting by PAC’ as promised in the manifesto.
- Senior public officer’s appointments
One of the key challenges facing the country’s public service, experts agree, has been the politicisation of key government departments and institutions. The politicisation often comes through the President’s power to hire and fire top bosses of these departments and institutions.
The DPP, in response, made a bold promise when they said the appointment and removal of the governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the Auditor General, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Clerk of Parliament, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) executive secretary, the Malawi Law Commissioner, director general of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) director general, and leaders of other accountability institutions shall be ‘on merit through a special public appointments committee’. The part also added that these will ‘also be observed in appointments and removal of chief executive officers and board members of parastatals’.
One year on, Malawians have witnessed notable leadership changes in most public departments. There have been changes, among others, at MBC, ACB, Macra and DPP.
However, the question of merit in these appointments and removals is highly debatable as they have been made by the President. The promised ‘special appointment committee’ is non-existent.
Equally interesting has been the party’s change of philosophy when, in their Public Service Reforms initial report, they proposed that the positions under discussion should be aligned to presidential limits. Most Malawians were against the clause during the interface meeting that Chilima held with various sectors prior to the launch of the Public Reforms agenda. This moved the reforms committee to scrap it off the agenda.
Thus, as the President continues to make changes in various government departments, the next four years will, again, be interesting as they will prove that the promised ‘special appointment committee’ was either real or a hoax. So far, it sounds like a hoax.
- Economic governance
The DPP’s overall economic governance, arguably, was shaped by their opposition to the country’s former president Joyce Banda’s economic philosophy as enshrined in the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP).
In their manifesto, the party argued that it “refuses to believe that there is no alternative to the economic policies which the current government [PP] is implementing”.
The party criticised Banda’s economic policy choice, arguing “the current governing party [PP] chose carelessly the mix of neo-liberalism, devaluation, currency floatation and automatic pricing”.
As part of offering a new lease of economic policy choice, the party advanced that “it shall pursue the mixed economy and developmental State as twin paradigms that will promote the interests of the people while protecting economic growth”.
One year on, the DPP has done relatively little to offset the “careless mix of neo-liberalism, devaluation, currency floatation and automatic pricing” it slewed Banda’s government for.
They have maintained, among others, the currency floatation and the automatic pricing of fuel. In fact, Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe was quoted in Parliament as having said his government will not abandon most of the economic policies pursued by the PP government.
**NEXT WEEK: We are looking at other promises, among others, reducing Presidential powers, implementing Constitution review recommendations, promoting women to senior public offices, nationalising development projects and formulation of new laws.