It does not bode well for Malawians who lived through the era of Kamuzu Banda to hear a whole Attorney General (AG) claim that the president has all the executive powers to order an arrest of an individual.
Coming from three decades of dictatorship when any Malawian could be thrown into jail on flimsy reasons and without trial, it boggles the mind that a brilliant man of the law like the AG can claim that all executive powers rests with the president. In his clever wisdom, it therefore follows that the President can order the Police around and by extension the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Now these bodies, the police as a security organ and DPP as a prosecutor are mandated by the Constitution to be bodies free from interference of the executive, be it a president or a minister.
But we cannot deny that the term ‘orders from above’ has its origins in the absence or lack thereof, of the full independence of our Constitutional bodies. Every head of these institutions be it the Police, Anti-Corruption Bureau-enters it knowing full well that orders from above will come to his table.
By some luck or bad luck for that matter, this week we came to ‘see orders from above’ in black and white. The action, whether intentional or not, has just crystallised what every Malawian has always known: The Constitution is good but flawed piece of document.
For the President, through his press secretary, to direct the Police to arrest Eric Aniva (Nsanje fisi), investigate and then take him to court shows that ‘orders from above’ do exist indeed.
Let us not even go into how wrong the sequence sounds. Arrest then investigate? Our police cells would fully be packed if the police followed such orders to the letter.
But in any case, institutional independence, as the many years of democracy have demonstrated are loose terms in this country.
For example, where the Constitution states in black and white that the police shall act independent of the executive, the President who heads cabinet and therefore, the Executive arm of government has powers to appoint the head of the institution, the Inspector General of Police, albeit upon confirmation by the legislature through the Public Appointments Committee (PAC).
The same Constitution that limited and clearly outlined powers and duties of the president to order arbitrary arrests now suddenly is too weak stop pre-democracy tendencies from creeping in with the current President.
We are afraid, because the making of a dictator starts like this. Today it is the ‘hyena’ in Nsanje who is under arrest on direct order of the President, tomorrow it will be an order to arrest your mother and father. Before the nation wakes up from the shock, our prisons will be full of innocent Malawians who fell prey to ‘orders from above’.
We can take it lightly now, but we should be very afraid. Need I remind you of the adage, wamisala anaona nkhondo?
The 1964 Cabinet Crisis happened because of a few ‘mad’ people who opposed Kamuzu Banda rule. They were branded crazy for their foresight. Their fears seemed unfounded at the time but they came to pass. n