Listening to Presidential press secretary Gerald Viola—who is supposed to be the lead singer of the Peter Mutharika praise choir, talk to Times TV last week, you would think that all of Malawi’s problems started the day Joyce Banda sold off Bingu’s beloved presidential jet.
I cringed with embarrassment at that interview.
While Viola tried to appear assured exuding an air of arrogance and self-importance, it was clear he was unprepared for it or, worse still, bluffing. I felt ashamed that, for a country desperate to build its battered image, Malawi has and individuals of his calibre for a spokesperson for the president of the country.
I do not know about you but if it is this government’s diversion tactic to talk ad nauseam about the jet that Joyce Banda sold, then I am also quite keen to find out what happened to the proceeds from the sale or disposal of the Kwacha, Sapitwa and any other planes that Air Malawi had—done during the time the DPP was in power.
If Viola, who ostensibly speaks for the President, spoke not for the president on this occasion and misled the entire nation about President Peter Mutharika wanting to purchase a jet of his own, then I a m waiting to see him punished because he deserves no less. President Mutharika must know that a leader who hesitates to punish a miscreant is morally and politically weak and has no business being in that position.
Yet you must look at the bigger picture.
Peter Mutharika, in all likelihood, wants to have that jet. On several occasions, he has complained about the lay-over times at airports, as if waiting for connections in cushy airport lounges is something beneath him. Our leaders feel they are entitled to be as lavish in their lifestyles as they possibly can. They feel they can be arbitrary in their regard for the economic well-being of ordinary people; they can ignore them and not expect to be censured, not by the international community which gives them generous donations and loans, and not by their own people.
If President Mutharika doesn’t act to scold this man, then we can conclude that purchasing a jet is a Peter Mutharika pet project, anchored on some personal pride, likened to the attempt by Bingu wa Mutharika to purchase two obnoxiously-priced Mercedes-Maybach Pullman limousines soon after he took office in 2004. Only after the media carried the story and the public reacted with disbelief did Bingu back down, but not before he reacted first with fury and later with threats against the strong-willed reporter and the newspaper which had broken the story.
So I suspect Gerard Viola was speaking with the blessing of his boss, perhaps to test the waters.
If he did not have Mutharika’s backing, he would have been fired by now. Before him, Frederick Ndala and Timpunza Mwansambo found out to their horror that once you cross Peter Mutharika in that job, you have burnt your bridge and there is no going back.
Viola must take the message back to his boss as he has gotten it; that Malawians are saying he has not done anything yet to deserve a jet.
He must tell the president that people are angry because, not so long ago, he promised them milk and honey but is now giving them monkey nuts, instead. n