A voice of despair is certainly creeping in from the public over what I would describe as a lethargic approach by the Tonse Alliance-led administration, steered by President Lazarus Chakwera, to resolving emerging issues that have attracted attention in the public domain. Procrastination seems to be the order of the day and this could eventually be the undoing of the Tonse-led administration if the leaders do not change their approach.
For starters, it should not have taken the likes of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (once referred to as ‘Gulu la za uchifwamba’ by the previous regime) threatening to take to the streets before witnessing movement on the K6.2 billion meant for Covid-19 but suspected to have been embezzled by some self-serving and unpatriotic civil servants.
I know some might say it was a mere coincidence as plans were already in the pipeline for the authorities to come out and address this subject; well, fine and good, but how about the Cabinet issue? Does that not prove that this government is fond of dilly-dallying on matters of public interest when it is supposed to be decisive? The President needs to be assertive but not heavy-handed to ensure that things are moving with the requisite speed.
What most people found puzzling in the K6.2 billion Covid-19 issue was the fact that, since the time district commissioners were sent on leave at the peak of the matter, little or nothing at all was mentioned as far as follow-up action was concerned or indeed progress of the audit that the President demanded be carried out. I am happy that finally the cat is out of the bag as President Chakwera stepped in and said it matter-of-factly that he expects the audit institutions to make findings of the report public. This should be the norm; we should not be harbouring criminals disguised as public servants or, better yet, punishing innocent junior workers when those orchestrating embezzlement schemes at the top are left scot-free.
In fact, it should not just end at people being named in the report but they certainly must be held to account for their misdeeds; whether it means being tried in a court of law, paying back the money, I for one do not mind as long as justice is served at the end of the day. Malawians have that right to know who in their right mind was misusing funds meant for Covid-19 response at a time the pandemic greatly affected our country.
While we are on the subject of procrastination, Capital Hill finally mustered some courage in the course of the week to issue dismissal letters to Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) commissioners Linda Kunje and Jean Mathanga, respectively, dismissing them from the Commission on the basis of a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling delivered on May 8 2020. This has been another long-winded subject and, if memory serves me right, the two dismissed commissioners had even moved the courts on the issue.
What perhaps generated much interest and debate was the subsequent move by Mec, on advice from the country’s Attorney General, to summarily suspend all activities that all its commissioners were undertaking as the dismissal of Kunje and Mathanga had tinkered with the composition of the team of commissioners in line with Section 75 Subsection 1 which demands that all six commissioners be in place to validate their actions (do forgive me since I am not a legal expert, I have tried to, as much as possible, put it in layman’s language so that we all understand). Here is the actual section:
There shall be an Electoral Commission which shall consist of a Chairman who shall be a Judge nominated in that behalf by the Judicial Service Commission and such other members, not being less than six, as may be appointed in accordance with an Act of Parliament.
This, in actual sense, means that the move by President Lazarus Chakwera, through Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zanga- Zanga Chikhosi, though anticipated by most, might have placed the country in, as aptly put by Mec Chairperson Justice Chifundo Kachale, a “legal quagmire” as far as the fate of Mec is concerned.
It is not an entirely impossible situation because if we can maneuver quickly and without necessarily violating the Constitution, we can have the team of Mec commissioners reconstituted (whether with the same faces or new ones; that can best be guided by those with legal clout).
At the end of the day, we need to move forward on matters of national interest and the President has the obligation to see to it that we are taking the necessary steps at the right time and without leap-frogging the law because that can rouse fires that have already been doused.
Simply put, we must get things done.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).