What do we expect from the presidency?

By Joseph Kayira

Section 78 of the Constitution of Malawi stipulates, “There shall be a President of the Republic who shall be Head of State and Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of Malawi.”

The same republican Constitution in Section 81 says “Before a person elected to be President or First Vice-President or appointed to be First Vice-President or Second Vice-President takes office that person shall take the following oath which shall be administered in public by the Chief Justice:

“I…….do solemnly swear that I will well and truly perform the functions of the high office of President (or Vice-President) of the Republic of Malawi, and that I will preserve and defend the Constitution, and that I will do right to all manner of people according to law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. So, help me God.”

So, the question ‘what do we expect from the presidency?’ is partially tackled in the oath the president-elect takes before assuming the highest office in the land. An extension to that would go to the day to day administrative issues of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The heads of these MDAs through set structures, report to the presidency their operations.

Again, another important area that is worth mentioning is what constitutes government. The Government of the Republic of Malawi is made up of three arms: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary. The President heads the Executive arm of Government. The President is the Head of State, Head of Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Defence Force.

President Chakwera and his vice Chilima

The Legislative arm of Government is the Parliament of Malawi. Parliament is presided by the Speaker of the House and in his absence the Deputy Speaker both of who are elected by Members of Parliament. Parliament consists of 193 members when fully constituted. The Judiciary is the third arm of Government vested with judicial authority and is independent. The Lord Chief Justice heads the Judiciary and is deputized by the Deputy Chief Justice.

For Malawians, there are many expectations from the presidency. They range from campaign promises to what government is supposed to deliver as social services. For instance, the current Tonse Alliance administration promised to turn around the agriculture sector by introducing a universal fertilizers subsidy. It only managed to deliver what now is called the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP). Just like the previous Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP), the AIP, is targeting around 4,200 households. It is a decision that government or the presidency had to endorse considering how much money was to be spent on the subsidized farm inputs.

Obviously, Malawians expected the presidency to live by its campaign promises of introducing a universal subsidy. Equally baffling is the way the AIP is being implemented. The presidency should make a quick and sound decision on how farmers should be assisted at selling points where in some instances wait for days on due to “intermittent network.”

Malawians also expect the presidency, among others, to deal with deep-seated corruption in government MDAs. While during campaign, both the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party blamed the Peter Mutharika Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration for the literally creating poverty instead of creating jobs, they too risk going down the same path if they won’t decisively deal with corruption. The presidency must therefore rise above party politics and rhetoric.

On foreign policy, the issue of Malawi planning to open its embassy in Jerusalem must be discussed at length – the presidency must consult widely. As it stands, the UN does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. Malawians, and the world over, expect the presidency to reconsider its current stand on Jerusalem.

The behaviour of Members of Parliament to double their monthly allowances and salaries at a time when poverty is biting hard and the revenue base is shrinking, is not only immoral but also selfish and inconsiderate. They are already swimming in opulence if one considers their take home pay. They are far better-off than most workers in the three arms of government. While other government workers are told to exercise prudence, legislators think they can raise their perks any time they want. The president must crack the whip on legislators and urge them to be exemplary. The presidency should never be part of this extravagance; the presidency should reverse this unpopular decision which will have a negative impact on the public purse.

The bad blood between the presidency and the opposition – especially those in the DPP must be dealt with once and for all. The country witnessed a flurry of arrests of perceived DPP sympathizers and officials. The DPP has complained that these are politically motivated arrests while on the other hand, the presidency says only those that plundered public resources or broke the law will be arrested. The presidency must make sure that these arrests are indeed targeting suspects who messed up things. Arbitrary arrests will only take the country back to days of “death and darkness.”

The presidency must also make sure that only those that have the welfare of Malawians at heart are given public positions; that only those that have genuine papers are in public positions. Those that got positions dubiously should be told to leave or get the boot. The presidency must make sure that there is no repeat of sharing position among tribesmen. It’s not right. Deserving candidates must get these positions. The same should be said about business contracts in government. So, tendency that once a party is in power must reward those that financed its campaign must quickly come to an end. It is what Malawians are expecting from the presidency.

A destroyed bridge that needs government intervention

And the presidency must start to believe in the capacities of Malawians and local institutions. The recent announcement that the former United Kingdom (UK) prime minister Tony Blair wants to set up an advisory office on governance results delivery at State House and the Office of the President and Cabinet, has put Malawi in a different perspective and tongues are beginning to wag. The question is can Malawians or local institutions fail to do what the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), can? Malawians expect the presidency to consult on this equally important area.

There are so many areas the presidency is expected to deliver. The presidency must deal with those who are hunting down people with albinism; the presidency must descend on defilers and rapists. The presidency is also expected to do something about what happened at Msundwe and surrounding areas where girls and women were sexually assaulted. Surprisingly, no one seems to take action even after the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and the courts presented stunning evidence and made ruling respectively that action be taken against police officers who sexually assaulted women and girls there. In view of increasing cases of gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual assault against children, girls and women, the presidency can make a difference by leading in the fight against GBV.

There are so many expectations from the presidency. Different sectors of the economy look up to the presidency for a new turn. 

The presidency should once again reflect on the oath: “I…….do solemnly swear that I will well and truly perform the functions of the high office of President (or Vice-President) of the Republic of Malawi, and that I will preserve and defend the Constitution, and that I will do right to all manner of people according to law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. So, help me God.”