MPs salaries: Flogging legislators into order
By Eugenio Njoloma
To say Happy New Year 2021 would be a befitting opening statement for this article. In the wake of the electoral triumph of what the ‘owners’ named Tonse Alliance government, the year 2021 should indeed be a very happy year. Popular expectations rooted on the combination of Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima, have, generally, been significant right from the period of the Alliance’s formation.
However, politically disturbing behavior by some politicians is breeding doubts in the minds of many, which, thus, constitutes the reason to ruin people’s happiness in 2021. In particular, reports that members of parliament (MPs) would be getting K2.2 million in allowances provoke undesirable memories of past regimes that thrived on plunder. Indeed, extracting this much from the already financially dilapidated Malawians is a cause of great concern.
Questioning the MPs’ demands for such colossal cash lies deep in Malawians’ concerted desire to seek for accountability from office bearers. There, indeed, have to be fundamental questions regarding the necessity and the justification for such heavy pecuniary demands. After all, no MP lives on a miserable salary. Moreover, each one of them can easily and softly access a K50 million bank loan.
For argument’s sake, K2.2 million for 193 members of parliament translates to a monthly bill of K424,600,000. Practically, this sum of money can buy 90 of the much-needed ultrasound medical scanners and sufficiently equip over all district hospitals. It can also support hundreds and hundreds of stocks of essential medicines nearly in all health centres across the country let alone paying for over 600,000 litres of fuel for ambulances.
Any sort of justification for such hefty sums of money cannot just hold. It is utterly inconsiderate of the people’s representatives to claim millions when the constituents sleep on empty bellies. Simply put, this is profligacy, which Malawians voted against on 23 June 2020.
By accepting the Chakwera-Chilima presidency, Malawians believed that political vices including negligence, plunder, and executive arrogance would be reasonably and promptly tamed. Yes, the omnipotence of presidential decrees could make such “unreasonable” demands for financial “extravagance” reasonably unattainable. Could Chakwera, therefore, frog the legislatures into order?
The prevailing regime of leadership by Chakwera diffuses the certainty of the answer to this question. Contrary to the previously heightened hopes in the Chakwera-Chilima presidency, Malawi’s exodus from political and socioeconomic misery does not look promising. Many now have realized that Chakwera is politically naïve and less tactful while Chilima is only a political marketing mogul who if he turned preacher could beat prophetic antics of both Shepherd Bushiri and TB Joshua.
Indeed, the previously very positive expectations among many Malawians are quickly fading in the same way a one-time bleached counterfeit blue pair of jean trousers does. The political euphoria that had infatuated many to adopt the “itsanana” signature and/or Chilima or Chakwera profile pictures on their social media pages is not there anymore. Many have surreptitiously recoiled and the poise to brave other more years of misery has crept in.
Interestingly, others have openly defied the pretense of living in the ecstasy of the Tonse Alliance government and have opted to call a spade a spade. In particular, staunch advocates for distributive justice seem poised against symptoms of political mediocrity and impunity. They also seem irritated by a spirit of wanting to use spectacles that suit the occasion.
One social media icon, Onjezani Kenani, for example, admonished such behavior when it got revealed that Egenco would be constructing a staff house at over K200 million. He said “…Some so-called “experts” are going “pimba-pimba” trying to justify this nonsense just because it is the Tonse Alliance theft. The same so-called experts were in April 2019 on this page bashing the Mutharika government for the K675 million Escom demolition cost… They just bashed Mutharika and commended us for bashing him.”
“For this page, nonsense is nonsense, whether under Mutharika or Chakwera it does not change colour..And I pretty much don’t care about the opinion of apologists, I only care about the poor. Don’t come here to sanitize theft just because it is happening under the watch of someone you support.”
One conspicuous thing about President Chakwera that can be hard to garner obscurity is his decision-making irregularity. It is for this reason, therefore, that any hopes that the President could ‘frog’ the MPs would not materialize. It is not forgotten yet that the President’s powerfully delivered “clearing the rubble” inaugural speech was followed by a very uncharacteristic decision-making anomaly in cabinet appointments, which Professor Danwood Chirwa courageously referred to as “incestuous.”
Thus, while President Mutharika got accused of appointing cronies and tribemates into the cabinet and other top government positions, President Chakwera seems to see no political immorality in doing that. It is not a secret that he has assembled officials with consanguineous or marriage bonds in his government circle. This is exacerbated by the President’s delusion in basing governance on speeches and extensive mobility.
But being the President, he has to inspire his constituents by being practical. He has to demonstrate that he is in full control of every governance process. He too must show that he is capable of not just shaping but critically keeping in check the behavior and conduct of every Malawian including his right-hand personnel on matters of national importance including against the gluttonous attitudes of the MPs.
See, for example what Richard Chimwendo Banda, a Malawi Congress Party (MCP) legislature for one constituency in Dowa district, recently did in encouraging people to first “frog” the suspects of rape and defilement before they are handed to police. He said, “Tidzimva zokuthaitha. Akagwililira mwana, kupanda, kumenya, kuthyola, amenyedwe ndithu. Akamafika kupolisi titadziwa kuti mwachita naye.”
Yes, the legislature and Minister of Homeland Security may have unconventionally emphasized the punishment for offenders as he only sought to demonstrate his deepest concern on the issue following the apparent rampancy of the offence. In reality, however, his action were tantamount to institutionalizing of mob justice. Yet even in the thickest of popular disapproval of his statement, the minister only chose to retract his words and never issued any apology.
The minister, however, forgot that as a politician, he includes one of the cruellest agents of violence against Malawians. As Johan Galtung contends, when politicians deprive people of basic needs, they are only being structurally violent, which is no different from direct violence of the mob justice face and colour. Hence, calling for mob justice is simply hypocrisy of the highest order, which Chakwera must be able to recognize and promptly tame.
But where can the President acquire the sincerity to “frog” the MPs when his own left-and-right-hand men including Chimwendo Banda and Eisenhower Mkaka, for example, top the chart of those with unruly behaviour? Of course, there is no secret that these two particular politicians fought so hard for the President’s rise to his present level. He simply cannot just touch them.
Yet as a leader, who is even directly elected by the masses, he can do better by keeping Malawians in his mind always. He must remember that he is what and who he is for all Malawians. When he isolates and nurtures the interests of 193 individuals who masquerade as representatives of the people, no Malawian will ever hold him in highest esteem. He simply has to lawfully frog, frog, and frog the unruly politicians.
*Njoloma is a regular contributor to The Lamp magazine. Email: email@example.com