When President Peter Mutharika was preparing to go to New York in the United States of America for the 71st United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), government arranged a press conference in Lilongwe where Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Francis Kasaila confirmed the President’s trip.
Because of last year’s scandal of a bloated entourage that attracted a barrage of criticism, Kasaila eagerly mentioned that the President was accompanied by a “reduced” entourage.
But he refused to give numbers so that people could determine on their own how small or large that entourage was, saying “I don’t have the exact number of delegates that are on the entourage now.”
Kasaila was also unable to give the estimated cost of the trip to the taxpayer, but promised to provide the numbers by the end of the week the President was departing. Three weeks later the media and Malawians are still waiting.
At the end of UNGA, when every Head of State and Government who attended the Assembly had returned home, Malawians never saw their President coming home to share the pangs of hunger ravaging more than half the country’s population; to have him here so that together we can watch the crumbling healthcare system, the fiscal crisis hitting government, the sharp rise in the cost of living and the various mini-crises that are increasing by the day.
When a journalist asked a Cabinet Minister where the President was and why he was not home, the Minister said the President cannot account to the people of Malawi through the media.
Really? Since when?
If the President does not account to the media, how come the presidential press team was bombarding our newsrooms with speeches that Mutharika made during the high level meeting of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunities as part of the side meetings while in New York?
How come he is not firing the Mana journalists who were sending stories to media houses in Malawi about the President’s activities?
How come the presidential media team sent us APM’s UNGA speech?
And, yes, why did Katsaila call the media to try and justify the undisclosed size of the entourage?
The fact is that officials voluntarily come to the media when they believe they have something positive to say or try to pre-empt a potential controversial outcome or at least pretend that they have nothing to hide.
In failing to explain what exactly the President was still doing outside the country, where exactly he was and who he was meeting, we can conclude that the administration was trying to hide something about the President.
The questions are: what was it that they were protecting and why? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument that the President had proceeded on leave after UNGA as some administration officials said privately; then why would government want to hide that fact?
Is the President not entitled to a holiday? Everyone deserves a rest, so why was it so hard to come out clean and say that APM had proceeded on a breather?
Was it sheer arrogance or the cost and holiday destinations were so expensive that the taxpayer would have been enraged? Is that what the APM handlers were so worried about?
Let’s try something else.
If the President was ill as some people have been claiming and that he was receiving medical treatment, is there any wrong doing in being ill?
Even the youngest of officials get sick, why not a seventy-something year-old man who carries the burdens of the poorest country in the world?
If he was unwell, why couldn’t the country simply have been told that he is receiving medical attention?
Does the administration really need this sort of controversy and rumours swirling all over the place?
Why would anyone want to be distracted from tackling the serious issues affecting the country by undue secrecies?
Look, most of the folks handling the President’s communications are my friends—capable people who should do a better job than this, but somehow they manage to shock and disappoint me with their ineptness.
And it gives the President unnecessary stress.