Hon. Folks, in the 1993 national referendum, 65 percent of Malawians voted for democracy and only 35 percent tried to hold on to the one-party dictatorship they had known for almost 30 years.
Twenty-two years after the historic referendum that precipitated the fall of life president the late Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Afrobarometer’s survey shows that, while 49 percent are satisfied with democracy (19 percent very satisfied and 30 percent fairly satisfied), 42 percent aren’t impressed. They think our democracy is sick.
The point to note here is that the enthusiasm for democracy may still be there but it is waning, not because people regret the decision they made in 1993, but because they think our democracy could be better managed.
Put differently, the Afrobarometer survey reveals that more people think the best is yet to come out of the decision we made in the referendum to revert to a multi-party system of government. It’s an opinion well thought of.
Why? The same people who aren’t satisfied with democracy are able to give government kudos for its areas of good performance. Take freedom of expression, for example. It scoops a whopping 77 percent satisfaction rating, the highest score rate among the 28 sub-Saharan countries polled.
This is no mean achievement, considering that under the one-party system, there wasn’t an iota of freedom of expression.
Ironically, the same government that allows free expression resists according people the right to access to public information. What should we then expect of the narrative freely expressed in the public domain? Views devoid of accurate information and largely informed by perceptions and rumour.
Those in government who consider themselves more privileged to access and hold on to such information have consistently shown amazing incompetence to steer government business in the right direction.
Since 1994, governments have failed to impress both taxpayers and donors in various key areas such as fighting corruption, executing projects effectively and efficiently, fighting impunity by enforcing transparency and accountability—tenets of good governance– and generally, putting the public interest above personal or partisan interest.
The result has always been a skewed democracy that satisfies the expectations of the minority on the government side. Only twice in the history of multiparty politics–in 1999 when UDF’s Bakili Muluzi amassed 52 percent of the votes in the presidential election and in 2009 when DPP’s Bingu wa Mutharika garnered 66 percent—did the majority of voters side with the winning candidate.
Yet, election victory has been like pay day for those on the government side of the political divide. They are given ministerial portfolios, senior jobs in the public sector and their companies use connections to get big contracts with government.
In Malawi, being associated with the opposition is the worst nightmare. You are more likely to be hounded by ACB for corruption than criminals on the government side, you are likely to be denied senior positions in government even if you happen to be the most qualified candidate, and you are also likely to be denied lucrative contracts not just with government but the entire public sector.
Muluzi aptly captured the spirit to ensure the opposition assumed observer-status by ranting that he would ensure his political rivals wear out while hanging on the rail like curtains. The only area where government has encouraged or even coerced folks in opposition to participate in is paying tax.
Sadly, those in government as a reward for their political loyalty know better that their success is not performance-based. As long they lick boot, they can abuse resources, perform dismally or even inflate tenfold the price of goods and services they sell to government and be rewarded for it with longevity of tenure or more lucrative contracts.
Ever heard of Public Private Partnership (PPP)? Wake up and smell the coffee!
Unfortunately, our measly economy could not stand the abuse, estimated to cost 30 percent of public revenue for long, hence, the failure of the multi-party democracy to significantly reduce poverty in the past 21 years.
There is one pressure point, though. Now that donors have ditched funding the recurrent budget, government is forced to survive by exacting more tax from the impoverished citizens. If public sector reforms fail to wipe off mediocrity, someday people just might decide to ring-fence their taxes from abuse with their dear lives.