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2016: The year the President failed Malawians

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As I sat idle, enjoying a seasonal vacation, I got a very emotive SMS from a consumer of media products. I did not know the sender but had to respect and value the feedback. The tone was full of frustrations. This consumer is so disappointed that his hopes on President Peter Mutharika to lead Malawians out of corruption are fast crumbling.

“It’s very disheartening that the President knows that some of the challenges [Malawi is facing] are being caused by the people who have surrounded him and he fails to fire them. The right term to use is that the President has failed completely because he is failing to fire the rotten ministers yet he has all the powers. Something is amiss here,” the message reads.

Another message reads: “… are all from the Lhomwe Belt. Mudzilemba district of origin [when writing about] ma public appointments.”

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I asked about the meaning of the message and I got a litany of recent appointments that the President has made, saying they are all from Thyolo District where the President comes from.

Later in the day, I got an email from someone who had watched a rebroadcast of a Tchutchutchu Programme on Times TV where I featured Professor John Chisi. He praised Times TV for presenting balanced and truthful analysis of current affairs and hoped for more sobering analyses in 2017. He even suggested areas to be tackled in the coming year.

These messages and more that I received, on a daily basis, from readers and viewers of products of Times Group concretised the fact that Mutharika has disappointed a lot of Malawians who expected this constitution lawyer of international repute to fix the problems besetting the country, at least those to do with governance and the rule of law.

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But to the dismay of many, the President chose to remain quiet at a time his position was needed most.

Among other issues, the President refused to bring a lasting solution to the University of Malawi impasse that was caused by the exorbitant fees hike. He allowed the matter to drag on before he decided to announce a “discount” of K50,000. The highest announced fees hovered around K1.4 million. And the President’s intervention meant K50,000 off the dizzying K1.4 million.

Then there was the issue of Chief Executive Officer of the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera). Government suspended Raphael Kamoto on suspicion that he was involved in corrupt practices. Ironically, it replaced him with Ishmael Chiwoko, who was once arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), on corruption charges and is serving bail. The President could not provide executive guidance, despite public outcry, and Chiwoko is still in office, subsisting on tax payers’ money.

One would also think of some of Mutharika’s cabinet ministers and senior officials of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who are in the forefront trampling the law. The ministers have been implicated in the illegal plunder of the Viphya Plantations. The Department of Forestry has duly ordered these senior DPP officials to pay fines. But the officials have declared that they will never pay up.

The President was expected to provide leadership and force his ministers and senior party officials to display patriotism and integrity. To the contrary, the Executive decided to pick up a fight with the Judiciary, accusing the courts of aiding the destruction of the Chikangawa Forest.

Perhaps the biggest let down by the President has been through the ACB leadership. Although the ACB has often been used as a political pawn, it has managed to make some professional and objective arrests which led to successful convictions. But the current ACB lacks leadership. It stinks of corruption. It is so clear that the ACB is working so hard to lose some cases. It is startling to see the ACB boss, Lucas Kondowe, declaring that there is no evidence against some suspects, yet everyone in ACB and even the Malawi Law Society sees evidence all over in the particular cases.

Knowing that there can never be sanctions for breaking the rules, some top government and DPP officials shared, among themselves, tractors that the government bought using a loan. The tractors were meant to benefit poor but hard working smallholder farmers. Mutharika’s government just told the officials to apologise instead of arraigning them before a court of law.

To cap the President’s failure, his cabinet ministers and CEOs of parastatal organisations have been implicated in Maizegate. At the time of writing this piece, the President looked the other way and sipped his choice whisky using silver goblets at the Kamuzu Palace.

The brand new year which unfolds itself before us tomorrow, offers the President a wonderful opportunity to redeem his reputation. He needs to relaunch himself as a brand and begin to serve Malawians. Mutharika must learn to be firm but fair with his team. History is replete with examples where these very officials run away from a leader once things came to a head.

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