Public Affairs Committee (PAC) must be worried now. What would otherwise have been a historical moment for the committee to meet a governing President and share with him recommendations and actionable resolutions on national issues, turned out to be a platform that exposed a disorganised committee.
During the meeting with President Peter Mutharika at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, PAC did confront the leadership as appreciated in its conferences. In the end the President could not say whether his administration would implement PAC’s resolutions drawn from recommendations made at an All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference held in February this year. The resolutions were on governance, agriculture, development, economy and health.
Although PAC insists that it did its best and the President missed an opportunity for not taking them serious, the meeting, beamed live on State-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) television, displayed a different PAC that could hardly argue or justify resolutions it had been working on for over a month.
Additionally, the committee staggered on prioritisation of issues on the agenda. Despite resignation calls being among the 21 ‘critical’ resolutions taken to the meeting, PAC chose not to mention it during the meeting.
“You (the President) certainly have a vision for a prosperous new Malawi. We find billboards on this vision. Patriotism can also be defined as responsiveness on the part of government to Malawi’s views. These visions are the wishes of Malawians. Integrity can be defined as walking the talk in living up to the political party manifesto and past promises. Hard work can be the sacrifice and servant leadership that will be needed to get this through,” said PAC chairperson the Reverend Felix Chingota, who sat next to Mutharika during the meeting.
Chingota’s tone was that of confidence in Mutharika’s leadership, contrary to the criticism that the PAC All-Inclusive Meeting. He told Mutharika that most of the issues in the resolutions are in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) manifesto, hence, not difficult to implement.
This has left many questioning the relevance of PAC in upholding good governance in the country. When asked why Malawians watched a different and disorganised PAC before the President, the committee’s spokesperson Father Peter Mulomole sounded surprised.
“I feel differently. We were just shocked that the Head of State seemed not to be aware of some critical issues when in fact his DPP officials have been attending our conferences where all the issues raised in our presentation were generated,” said Mulomole.
The committee was clearly unprepared and Mulomole admitted that they struggled to argue efficiently with the President.
“That scenario had its advantages and disadvantages… There are some things that you don’t want to say for fear of embarrassing the Presidency in public. It worked well for the President since he could say anything and hoped that PAC would not come in immediately to correct him out of respect. Remember, PAC was there to submit the outcomes of the 5th All-inclusive Stake-holders Conference and provide clarifications to questions and not really for a direct confrontation,” said Mulomole.
Commentators too have trashed the body for failing to read the situation from the onset of the meeting and change the game plan for better dialogue, a development they say has cost PAC its reputation and reduced its chances of such meetings in future.
Mustafa Hussein, a political scientist University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, says being the first interaction with Mutharika, the PAC went too far by issuing deadlines and ultimatums and it cost them the day.
“What we expected during the meeting were indications that the President will do what was demanded in the resolutions and not giving him deadlines. The President, too, should have been diplomatic as a leader knowing that the views were coming from the people and PAC,” says Hussein.
However, Ben Kaluwa, a Chancellor College economist, argues it was not wrong for the interfaith democracy watchdog to issue deadlines, but says the issues that need to be resolved are too complex to be attached a time frame.
This is not the first time PAC‘s All-Inclusive Conferences have had little impact, earning itself the tag of an elitist talking shop.
In March, 2012 for instance, PAC’s All-Inclusive Conference, which also took place in Blantyre, gave former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika 60 days to resign or call for a national referendum in 90 days. This was followed by similar conferences in 2013 and 2014.
Lately, the meeting advocated for such issues as federalism, the trimming of presidential powers, calls for electoral reforms, Section 65 and the Recall provision Section 64, but nothing much has come out of such tough talking as argued by critics.
Chancellor College political analyst Ernest Thindwa, in an earlier interview, told PAC that Malawians want action that produces results and not conferences that hardly produce fruits.
PAC executive director Robert Phiri knows his committee’s reputation has suffered, confessing in an earlier interview that there is a valid reason to question their success.
“It is true that there is an impression that most issues have not been concluded in a manner that the public expects,” he said.
Chancellor College political analyst Blessings Chinsinga says if the country is to move forward, watchdogs such as PAC need to draw issues to a meaningful conclusion.
“What I would advise PAC is to rethink its instrumental setup so that what it discusses finds its way into the government. If they achieve this, they will gain more trust from the public than the situation is now,” he says.
While PAC may have been influential in the past, it clearly is time for the body to rethink its strategy if it is to have an impact on national development.