I had the time and opportunity to watch and listen to MBC TV’s “Talk to the President” programme on Sunday night, January 17 2016. In this programme hosted by Mgeme Kalilani, the President is given the opportunity to respond to questions sent earlier by the “people. For all its weaknesses, which I will present later, the initiative need to be commended as an attempt by the presidency to get closer to the people.
The first issue I want to raise is the ambience and spendour, and opulence of the interview room. I have watched interviews where Christine Largarde, Barak Obama, John Cameron have been hosted. The decor of the rooms in which these interviews have been conducted have been clean and fit for purpose, but never the apparent opulence that Talk to the President exhibited. The interview looked more of the opulence one saw in Central African Republic’s Francois Bozize’s or Mobutu Seseko’s throne rooms. I would beg to be understood here. When I am referrring to Bozize or Mobutu’s throne room, this is less to do with the dictatorships and authoritarianism, but really on how the power was being projected. Despite being one of the “poorest” nations on the planet, our President was sitting on one of the biggest chairs on the planet. And this is not good for public relations. This sends the wrong message.
The second issue I want to comment on is the President’s own admission that there had been a break in the Talk to the President since November last year. So two months or so had passed, despite the fact that the programme was scheduled to have been recorded and broadcast. In the President’s explanation, this is because he had travelled abroad and he had “played cat and mouse” (this is what the President himself said) with Mgeme Kalilani. I estimate the President did not fully appreciate the meaning of what he said. “Mr President, cat and mouse?” Those of us who have to engage with colleagues in the public service have this misfortune of meeting people who play “cat and mouse” with us. They say the document will be ready on such and such a date and what happens is that other things come into their way and they can not deliver as promised. Mr President, let our yeah be yeah. When we say we will have “Talk to the President” which be broadcast every month, every month it must be. There are no excuses and the country out there will learn that we mean business. You can’t play cat and mouse with Mgeme. Please show Mgeme that you are trustworthy.
The last point I want to criticise is the president’s statement towards fraudsters, tax evaders and illegal forex externalisers. The president stated: “we know your methods now..” No, Mr President, if we come one step after the criminals we will always be outpaced. Government does not need to know the methods of the criminals after the fact. Government must be ahead of the criminals, and not behind. We have to know what the criminals are thinking before they even do it.