When can government be assessed?
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) recently held a press conference where its members, led by chairperson Gift Trapence, provided its assessment of the Tonse Alliance administration which has been in power for about six months now.
HRDC, which appeared to have slipped into self-annihilation after the June 23 court-sanctioned presidential election, might have actually responded to public concerns that it had been captured and would not fairly come out to critique the current administration.
So its press conference— where the rights body rated the current administration at 50 percent—perhaps made political and social sense.
Ignoring the accusations directed at HRDC from some sections of the public must have been troubling to Trapence and company. Matter-of-factly, human rights organisations have typically subsisted on the ‘noise’ that they make because that has been generally accepted as the hallmark of their work.
Still, there are those who believe that critically assessing a government based on its six months in power may not be aptly accomplished. It is being unrealistic, they say.
The assessment fundamentally centred on some of the promises that President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice- President Saulos Chilima made on the campaign trail ahead of the June 23 poll. A five-out-of-10 mark must be very difficult to arrive at because it presents that one’s performance is slightly above average.
Is that really the status of the Tonse Alliance administration in terms of its performance? Are they not doing enough in line with what they promised? These questions must be left to Malawians because in this era where information is readily available using several platforms, everyone is able to make informed valuations of how the government is performing.
In essence, evaluating a government should look at elements such as transparency and accountability, respecting the rule of law, fighting corruption, ensuring the less- privileged are taken care of and development plans, among others.
While the complexity of these elements may differ, indicators, however subtle they may be, are always there for all to see. For instance, is the Tonse Alliance administration transparent in its transactions? Is it respecting the rule of law and fighting corruption?
Is the Chakwera-led government taking care of the less-privileged? Does it have clear development plans which Malawians feel will change this country for the better? Once again, these questions can better be left to Malawians to answer.
However, it is clear that getting straightforward responses may not be possible by simply looking at the six months that the current administration has been in power. Most of the promises that the Tonse Alliance made ahead of the election cannot be accomplished in six months.
This is not to imply HRDC was wrong to provide its assessment of the government. It could be within the scope of the rights body’s work and they must never shy away from doing what they are there for.
Of course, governments can be assessed at any point in their progress. That is why even President Chakwera presented to Malawians an assessment of his own government’s performance just after 100 days in office.
But an assessment as serious as one which puts government on a standard rating scale and comes with figures ought to be done in a transparent and careful manner lest it fails in its own ideals. For instance, some observers believe it is too early to assess the current administration’s real performance and others are of the view that HRDC has not come up with a clear methodology of how it reached its conclusions.
Of course, some areas as postulated by HRDC are those that have already been in the public domain for some time. That government taking long to clear the rubble has been a major concern among some quarters that fear the system still has officers who may frustrate the Tonse Alliance agenda.
The President and his assistants have repeatedly said that parastatal boards that were constituted about three months ago are the ones that should hasten the clearing of the rubble that is there in the institutions. But the blame is undeniably being piled on the President as the leader of this country.
While still on the HRDC assessment, it is also important to remember that the Tonse Alliance administration is here for the first time and it might really not be very easy to gauge its real performance. The foundation can speak a lot about an administration, yes, but perhaps a little more time might be necessary.
In fact, the HRDC rating has been received with mixed reactions with some observers stating that 50 percent is not an honest reflection of reality on the ground. For political scientists such as Mustapha Hussein of Chancellor College, HRDC is entitled to “its claims” while for others, the Tonse Alliance administration has in fact performed “extremely well” so far.
All in all, there is nothing wrong with assessing a government’s performance. Human rights organisations should be particularly interested in such exercises because they are viewed to be speaking on behalf of Malawians.
HRDC did its assessment and presented its thoughts. There is nothing wrong with that but it might not really be what others think. The assessment might also have been rushed despite that it might have made political sense.