Hon. Folks, it was dumb for APM to let George Chaponda travel to Germany where he performed duties as Minister of Agriculture after the High Court had ordered that Chaponda be on forced leave of office.
Chaponda and APM are top notch legal scholars who know the consequences of being in contempt of court. More so considering that as political leaders, Malawians expect of them to lead by example in upholding the law.
What becomes of the rule of law if the President and his ministers select and pick what court determinations to respect and what to ignore?
Chaponda’s trip to Germany betrays some “trick or treat” mischief that makes the Executive look like a rowdy school boy high on something illegal. The thinking was that if Chaponda sneaked out quietly—no mention of his trip on MBC, driving a non-ministerial car to the airport and ensuring the obscurity of any security detail—the 17 million Malawians would all be hoodwinked into thinking that the man who’s been making headlines for the wrong reasons was on a private trip abroad.
It probably did not occur to the folks in government that incriminating details of the trip—where he was going, in what capacity and what he was going to do there—would not in the least be considered classified in a civilised and open democracy like Germany.
Probably government also convinced itself that the media in Malawi doesn’t have what it takes to track the escapades of political heavyweights in far away metropolitan capitals of the world. It’s only few months ago when APM himself eluded media attention when he decided to stay on in New York after attending the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Up to now both mainstream and social media haven’t established what exactly the President was doing in the United States (US) during the extended period. Not even Parliament has been told, as government promised, details of the UNGA trip and the costs borne by the impoverished taxpayer.
The more corrupt a government is—the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released by Transparency International (TI) earlier in the week shows Malawi’s case is getting worse with time—the more averse it is to transparency and accountability, tenets of good governance.
No wonder government publicist Nicholas Dausi simply denied knowledge of Chaponda’s trip to Germany when asked by the media. He could have checked and relayed correct information, but that apparently the intention was simply to mislead the media.
By simply brushing off the reporters, government betrayed much more than its pathological hate for the free press as provided for in section 36 of the Constitution. It also showed disrespect for section 12 of the Constitution which ties the authority to exercise power of State to “the sustained trust of the people of Malawi…maintained through open, accountable and transparent government and informed democratic choice…”
Obviously, when reading constitutional provisions tempering their sovereign authority with the rights and interests of the people of Malawi, those in government tend to remember only one thing—the people’s rights are not absolute. Then they take it upon themselves to trim and hem the letter and spirit of the Constitution in their own image.
But the people, too, know what’s duly theirs. This explains the battles APM has had with the media, civil society, the opposition and, at times, the donor community over the Access to Information (ATI) Bill. Government very much wants a Bill that legalises the status quo, allowing it to release or hold information as it pleases.
The people in turn, say no and are determined to fight for it.
Yet, there’s no denying that holding public information doesn’t really help government. If anything, it has created an atmosphere conducive to fraud and corruption which, in turn, has eroded public trust in those entrusted with public office and funds.
It has also eroded the trust of donors and foreign investors. Where else in Africa do donors prefer non-budgetary channels for the disbursement of their aid? n