Not once, but twice, has Steve Nhlane, State House spokesperson, uttered words confirming that we, Malawians, are subjects not citizens of this country.
Asked, a month ago, to justify President Joyce Banda’s decision to maintain, after the cashgate- driven reshuffle, a bloated 32 people long Cabinet list amidst economic woes, Nhlane retorted: “The president is not accountable to anyone”.
His response last week to the ‘mysterious’ private jet flying Mrs Banda from one capital to another was nothing different: “You do not deserve to know”. was the words he used to respond to the question “which well-wisher is flying our president around?”
Really, an elected President not accountable to anyone? Really, the entire nation does not deserve to know the ‘well-wisher’ flying an elected President around?
Honestly, it is foolhardy, then, to think of ourselves as citizens. Let us accept we are subjects—of course, a little improved than those that lived under Maravi Kingdom in the 17th and 18th century.
As subjects, pre-colonial history records, they only existed, not lived, to fulfill a long list of duties and responsibilities to the Maravi monarchy. They did not have a single ‘right’ to question how they were governed. As it is still the case today in UK, questioning the monarchy was treason.
Of course, I can understand our forefathers—the subjects of the Maravi Monarchy. They lived in an age of kingdoms where if you are not a leader then you are a subject.
But that age, fellow Malawians, is gone. So gone that even when Dr Kamuzu Banda’s decades of ‘death and darkness’ attempted to resurrect it, we stood up in 1993 and chose to be citizens not subjects.
To safeguard that choice to be citizens, not subjects, we rewrote the Constitution, and Section 12 (iii) of the constitutional principles is loud for all Malawians to ponder.
“…the authority to exercise power of State is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people of Malawi and that trust can only be maintained through open, accountable and transparent Government and informed democratic choice…”
Two issues come out in this Section. One, if you are a leader, you can continue to lead only if Malawians have trust in you. And two, that trust is drawn in governing in an open, accountable and transparent manner.
To mean, in events where Nhlane says “ the President is not accountable to anyone” or “you don’t deserve to know”, Mrs Banda, in violating Section 12, has lost ‘the authority to exercise power of State’.
This is what we, people of Malawi, desirous of creating a constitutional order in the Republic of Malawi based on the need for an open, democratic and accountable government, agreed upon and adopted in 1994.
In fact, on the evening of April 7 2012, Mrs Banda, while taking an oath of presidency, swore to uphold the Constitution. To mean, she swore to govern according to what we, Malawians, agreed upon and adopted in 1994.
Unarguably, the reason people like Nhlane can confidently, not once but twice, go public and confirm breaching the Constitution is not because they speak for something invincible. Rather, we, Malawians, appear to enjoy being ‘ruled’ like subjects without ‘rights’ than being led as ‘citizens’ with a Constitution to refer to.
I have always disagreed with arguments that our Constitution is weak.
Does it not have a mouth to tell Mrs Banda that despite the perceived silence, Malawians know the real culprits behind cashgate and with each passing day, their patience is wearing out?
Or does it have the legs to run the streets—just like on 3rd March 1959, 14 June 1992 and 19 July 2011—not to demand but to get back every coin that cashgate culprits stole from them?
The Constitution, let us not forget, is just a lifeless book filled with dry writings. It needs people to give it the life and the relevance it was written for.
That is why in 2003 our friends weathered the Third Term bid terror and told Bakili Muluzi to back off.
That is why in 2011 Malawians shed their blood in sending a message to the fallen tyrant Bingu Wa Mutharika that “the authority to exercise power of State is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people”.
What, as a nation, we did in stopping Muluzi’s Third Term nonsense and Bingu’s political arrogance is the hallmark of being a citizen. The spirit of rising up to demand what belongs to us.
Today, billions of tax-payer’s money, through cashgate, have been stolen. Of course, some arrests, here and there, have been made. Again some investigations are underway. But how do we trust these steps when the country’s major players in public finance management—for instance the Reserve Bank governor, the former Secretary to the Treasury, the budget director, the Auditor General, the Accountant General—are still in control of the game?
No wonder, the donors, they who contribute 40 percent to the budget, have, in anger, taken a practical step and withheld their money.
So what about us who contribute 60 percent to the budget? This is a call to show if we are citizens or subjects.
A president travels around in a mysterious jet and State House argues that we, the people who vote, do not deserve to know? This, as well, is another call to show if we are citizens or subjects.
Otherwise, if we enter 2014 with a 2013 hangover of responding to government excess as if we are ‘subjects’ of Maravi Kingdom, expect more disdaining words from Nhlane.
I wish you a citizenry happy new year.