President Peter Mutharika has made it clear that he is not amused that Malawians expect him to solve every national problem that the country is experiencing, especial in university education.
Ordinarily and technically, the President has a point. There is no way a single person can sort out issues that affect 17 million or more souls. Again, at no point has Mutharika ever posed as a prophet that he can predict the ills to befall us and strategise how to mitigate such calamities.
I have never even known the President to be a kind of a miracle worker or omnipotent that he can run every organ of the state to make residents happy.
But for all practical intents and purposes, Malawians have got legitimate expectations. It might be helpful to recall that less than two years ago, Mutharika criss-crossed the country, begging for votes in exchange for improved living standards for Malawians. The President even documented his promises in what was called a manifesto for the Democratic Progressive Party.
Among other issues, Mutharika pledged to ensure adequate funding to the universities and uninterrupted university calendar.
On May 31, 2014, the President solemnly swore to preserve and defend the Constitution of the Republic.
Section 13 (iii) of the constitution states that the state shall progressively adopt and implement policies and legislation aimed at offering greater access to higher learning and continuing education. The same constitution entitles all persons to a right to education. The sacred document also guarantees every person a right to academic freedom.
This should be basic knowledge to the President since he was one of a few Malawian lawyers who fashioned the Constitution.
But Mutharika says he cannot be accused of failure in the university system because there are councils and university management teams that are supposed to run the universities.
Perhaps the President needs to be reminded that one can delegate a duty but not a responsibility. Malawians delegated the task of steering the ship that is Malawi, to Mutharika. He is free to have his own crew members as long as he does not change the route and destination of the cruise.
This position is buttressed by the Constitution that clearly states, in section 88(2) that the President shall provide executive leadership in accordance with the constitution and the laws of the republic.
And Section 89(1) (a) gives the President mandate to make such appointments as may be necessary in accordance with powers conferred upon him by the constitution or an act of Parliament. This means that the appointees are working in a delegated capacity towards a goal of serving the interests of Malawians.
Mutharika cannot begin to say that he is respecting principles of good governance by giving his appointees free range when things are running into a ditch. Yes, he has empowered the councils and management to run the universities but Malawians know that he is the principal duty-bearer in this regard.
It is for this reason that Mutharika intervened in the fees hike stand-off between the councils and management of the universities on one hand and the students on the other. It is for the very same reason that the President ordered a slash in the fees!
The principles of good governance must not be applied as and when it suits the President. As they say, he who takes credit for the rains must also take the blame for the mud.
The President’s expressed position also runs counter to his passionate plea, to fellow leaders, at the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York. Mutharika got a standing ovation for his passionate exhortation for countries to fund education or perish.
Malawians expect Mutharika to live by his campaign promises because that is what formed a basis for a social contract upon which he was elected. He worked so hard to sell his manifesto to Malawians and he should implement the same with zeal.
Above all, as a constitutional lawyer, he should respect the Malawi Constitution which espouses those other principles of good corporate governance. For him to concentrate on the principles and ignoring the constitutional dictates, he will be missing the forest for the woods.
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