When you follow how obsessed the Tonse Alliance administration has been with two Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) commissioners Linda Kunje and Jean Mathanga, you would think that the country has come out of one of the most consequential health and economic crises of our time.
Just in case Tonse is still wrapped up in its electoral bubble and abdicated its leadership at a critical juncture, I would like to remind them that Covid-19 is very much alive—and so is the economic pain stinging Malawians.
The pandemic is still sickening and killing people while having a severe impact on the country’s economy as spillovers from the global economic slowdown, disruptions and border closures in the economies of Malawi’s trading partners decimate the already tiny exports we have been sending to the world.
This is not to forget the skyrocketing transit costs that have sharply hiked the cost of imported goods, including fuel prices currently crippling households, firms and the national economy.
We already know the story of our tourism sector, which has almost gone out of business amid sharp drops in international traffic, international arrivals and a collapse in accommodation occupancies as local Covid-19 restrictions on travel and physical distancing take their toll.
Foreign remittances, which in recent years have been one of the major sources of foreign currency for Malawi, have taken a knock as the diaspora also suffers from the effects of the pandemic.
Foreign direct investment has almost evaporated amid uncertainties in the near-term economic outlook which, frankly, is deteriorating on the back of comatose domestic activity.
Malawi’s balance of payment position, as a result, has dwindled so much that institutions such as the International Monetary Fund are postponing collecting their dues out of pity and, most importantly, to save the country from economic collapse.
Malawi is already neck-deep in debt and, because of Covid-19, has continued to borrow to spend—well, mostly, misspend if investigative reports on Covid-19 funds utulisation are anything to go by—on the groaning health sector and other social protection programmes to prevent a humanitarian crisis on the back of worsening poverty, dwindling incomes and heightened food insecurities.
Clearly, given the above crises, what this country needs is leadership that focuses on the bread and butter issues affecting Malawians today.
People want to see government efforts to save jobs; they are crying for a plan to bolster poor farmers’ incomes at a time they are harvesting their produce so that they can raise as much money as they can to feed their families, send their children to school and generally enjoy good health.
Malawians want a clear health and social services strategy that protects the most vulnerable not just from Covid-19, but also from the economic pain the disease has brought.
Nothing of the sort appears to be on the cards from the administration, but plenty of mundane stuff seems to be dominating the government’s agenda.
I doubt Malawians right now care about whether Kunje and Mathanga are competent or not.
In any case, wasn’t the duo part of the team of commissioners that run the court-ordered fresh presidential election that ushered Tonse and its torchbearer President Lazarus Chakwera into government? Or were these two just temporarily competent enough for a Tonse win?
Didn’t they just administer the recent by-elections whose results even the Tonse administration accepted as credible, free and fair? At what stages exactly did the administration find the duo’s incompetence acceptable and unacceptable?
Make no mistake; Malawians are not as gullible as some politicians might believe. They know when an administration is trying to divert attention from the real issues that need to be addressed.
For example, they know that if the Tonse administration is serious about clearing the rubble and fighting corruption, the first thing is for the governing alliance to facilitate tabling a bill—already drafted—that gives the Anti-Corruption Bureau real autonomy and latitude to follow the law without fear or favour. That has not happened 10 months into the Tonse regime that won the presidential vote on an anti-graft message.
Malawians know that to really improve good governance based on transparency and accountability, Tonse must introduce laws that, for example, trim presidential powers and those that remove immunity from prosecution of a sitting president.
On this promise too, there has been no movement, not even an initiation of a discussion.
So, while the Tonse partners maybe enjoying the little power plays among themselves and against certain individuals or rival political parties, they must remember that last year Malawians voted out an administration that had forgotten why it was in government in the first place: lead the people in solving real problems of the day.