Mutharika’s full plate
Newly inaugurated Malawian President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, has his work cut out for him. President Mutharika takes over a country that has been riven by a broken electoral system, a limping economy and entrenched corruption that saw millions of dollars being siphoned from state coffers by government officials.
The new Malawian leader was declared the winner of an election that was marred by numerous problems. The election results nearly caused mayhem in this usually peaceful southern African nation. Facing a glut of problems such as understaffing, a lack of resources and ill-preparedness, the Malawi Electoral Commission battled to run a credible election.
However, despite the challenges, observers endorsed the polls as generally reflecting the will of the people of Malawi because they were able to freely choose their representatives. President Mutharika will have to work hard to ensure the electoral commission is capacitated to handle future elections in a better way than the chaos that characterised the just ended process. But perhaps that is a matter for him to worry about towards the end of his five year term when the next elections will be drawing near.
The immediate task right now is to get Malawi working again by reviving the ailing economy and dealing with corruption, a scourge that has seen the State coffers being drained in the past few years.
President Mutharika need not look any further for ideas on how to fix the plethora of challenges that confront him as the leader of his country. He can draw lessons from his late brother Bingu wa Mutharika’s era and also from his predecessor, Joyce Banda’s reign. President Mutharika is a former Cabinet Minister having served in his late brother’s administration as Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Education Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister and so is not new to government. When Banda took over following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012, she faced an economy pulled down by fuel and foreign currency shortages. When she tried to revive the economy, she took the advice of the International Monetary Fund to devalue the Malawian Kwacha, sending prices of goods soaring.
The economy is still in the doldrums following the “Cashgate” scandal, which led donors to withdraw their millions worth of aid in budgetary support. Malawi relies on donor aid for about up to 40 percent of its budget funding. Malawi’s economy relies on agriculture and President Mutharika can take a leaf from his late brother President Bingu’s policy of providing subsidies to rural farmers to boost food security and spur the economy in the process.
He can also copy President Bingu and promote infrastructure development, which is also a catalyst for economic growth. In his inauguration speech President Mutharika chronicled the challenges facing Malawi and singled out reviving the economy as a priority.
“But first, we will see to it that the economy begins to grow again. And we plan to take a ‘bottom-up’ approach that involves and directly benefits ordinary people. And we plan to deliver a people centred economic growth at the rate of 7.5 percent in the next five years.
“What you need is not your President being all over, but it is infrastructure development coming all over and wherever you are. Our plans are to build a new network of first class roads across Malawi. We need open up our rural centres to the main roads and cities of our country so that rural areas have tarmac road access to the rest of the country. We plan to build more rural growth centres so that we can take development to the people.
“The DPP has already planned some of these projects. We started some of these projects before and we want to continue and do even more. We will revive Malawi’s colourful dreams of Nsanje port and building new cities,” the new President said.
He also undertook to fight corruption saying “the (Cashgate) scandal is evidence that we had lost our moral compass. We need new morality”.
President Mutharika will need to avoid the pitfalls that dogged his late brother’s last days in office and his predecessor, Joyce Banda’s reign. Bingu was accused of becoming autocratic in his last days in power while Banda failed to stamp her authority resulting in corrupt activities by government officials and poor handling of the economy.