Presidential running mates from the four major parties in the May 20 Tripartite Elections on Saturday night battled it out to show clean hands on their background in corruption and looting of public resources.
In the first-ever debate involving running mates which multi-award winning private broadcaster Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) organised in Lilongwe, experienced agriculturalist Godfrey Chapola represented the United Democratic Front (UDF) whereas former Airtel Malawi managing director Saulos Chilima represented the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Minister of Industry and Trade Sosten Gwengwe represented the governing People’s Party (PP) and former Cabinet minister Richard Msowoya stood in for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
In the course of the two-hour debate, the running mates fell short of articulating their roles as vice-presidents if their pair is voted into power, with most of them claiming they would head the civil service to improve its efficiency.
However, the running mates took time to expose each other’s weaknesses in public finance management, with subtle accusations and counter-accusations flying across the podium, but with no tangible solutions to the abuse of government resources that has taken place over the past years.
Responding to a question of how his party would ensure a corrupt-free and effective civil service, Chapola said the key was to put in place accountability mechanisms from Parliament to public service delivery on public financial management.
He said: “Government has a lot of money, more than enough to pay well its civil servants. But there is too much theft because there is too much interference [by politicians] in civil service.”
Msowoya blamed the rot in the civil service on theft of public resources which he said did not exist prior to 1994 when MCP ruled the country in the 31 years of single-party era.
He also blamed the shortage of drugs in hospitals not only on theft and corruption but nepotistic procurement processes due to the lack of independence from political interference of the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP).
On the other hand, Chilima said an effective civil service and reducing corruption can only be achieved by using private sector tactics and freeing hard-working civil servants from political manipulation.
But finger-pointing was rampant on the issue of corruption and theft, with Gwengwe repeating what PP torchbearer and incumbent President Joyce Banda has been saying that all theft which has taken place in civil service should be exposed; not just Cashgate.
In responding to a question from the audience on how the parties would ensure increased investment in the current restrictive tax regime, the candidates spoke of plans to broaden the corporate tax base.
Chilima’s solution to reducing the gap between the rich and the poor was to increase self-employment, especially among the youth who would pay low taxes while the other three candidates held a consensus that broadening the range of agricultural produce markets would economically empower smallholder farmers.
Apart from questions from the audience on topics ranging from maternal health, homosexuality and adherence to rule of law, the candidates were tasked to explain how, as vice-presidents, they would respond to a president who has lost touch with his/her people and their needs.
The debate lived up to expectations as evidenced by an attentive audience which crammed the Bingu International Conference Centre auditorium.
ZBS managing director Gospel Kazako said: “Let tonight be a night of change, that as a nation, we may learn to debate on issues of national importance. For us to move forward as a nation, we need to change the way we think. The world will not wait for Malawi.”
Media Council of Malawi chairperson Patrick Semphere lauded the ZBS initiative describing it as a groundbreaking event in the electoral history of Malawi.
The presidential running mates debate which moves to Blantyre in the coming weeks has come alongside the ‘Question Time’ debate involving spokespersons from the major political parties.