On the day the President and the Vice-President were sworn in, I asked my Malawian friends and colleagues (not a representative sample by any means) to reflect on the issues that the government ought to prioritise in the coming months. This is what they said.
1. An effective, contextual and amplified response to combat Covid-19.
2. Harnessing, rather than side-lining, the country’s assets and resources, including women (especially rural women), land and the youth.
3. Public sector reforms should not just be initiated but also completed. An important focus should be to root out nepotism and ensure that all appointments, including a smaller and inclusive Cabinet, are merit-based. The goal should be to promote a disciplined, motivated, vibrant and efficient civil service. Similarly, professionals, not just politicians, should be considered for ministerial appointments.
4. Addressing systemic corruption and mismanagement. The need of the hour is to move from the rhetoric to reality. All public officials should be able to account for their wealth and corrupt individuals should be prosecuted by an empowered Anti-Corruption Bureau. Similarly, key institutions such as the Malawi Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Law Commission should be adequately financed and empowered to protect hard-earned democratic freedoms.
5. Avoid ostentatious behaviour. This would mean smaller motorcades for VIPs and cutting down on hefty travel and related allowances and benefits to convince Malawians that their leaders are genuinely interested in advancing the welfare of the nation.
6. Reducing dependence on aid. Some Malawians believe that donors do not provide adequate policy space for their leaders. In addition to traditional donors, how the new leadership negotiates assistance from China, India and other powers will be crucial.
7. Mobilising domestic resources. Reducing donor dependency requires a viable strategy for greater domestic revenue generation to fund a pro-poor, pro-youth and dynamic national budget. Related to this is the capacity of the Malawi Revenue Authority to efficiently collect revenues based on current tax legislation.
8. Undertake a thorough review of all legislation. A clear and realistic national development plan with measurable outputs is needed.
9. The Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to fast-track digital inclusion for all. The cost of participating in the digital age is leaving Malawi behind.
10. Foster a constructive dialogue with the legislature.
The President’s speech, during his swearing in ceremony, contained all the right messages with the goal of unifying the country. He also consistently pointed to his partnership with Veep Saulos Chilima, which sounds promising, especially since past relationships between the presidents and their deputies have not always been very amicable. This election has offered the country with a unique opportunity to consolidate democracy and charter a new course for economic growth and development.