Joyce Banda's public relations fiasco
The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, was a complete activist when he lived his life here on earth more than 2 000 years ago. He never flinched from his solemn duty to speak on behalf of the voiceless and the down trodden at the hands of the rulers of his time.
A classic example was when he attacked the teachers of law and pharisees for their shameless duplicity, pretence and dishonesty.
In Matthew 23 verses 1 to 7 of the Bible, Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.”
Just in case you are wondering whether I have taken up preaching as a career in these days of countless conmen masquerading as pastors and prophets, let me be quick to disappoint you.
I can add that actually I do not qualify at all. Besides I have no intention of going to some backstreet college to study fake theology to be called an apostle or some fancy title that dubious churches are so quick to bestow on each other in an apparent attempt to make a quick buck from unsuspecting but desperate multitudes.
My reference to the holy scriptures is just my way of making a statement about the botched public relations job that the Joyce Banda administration has made of the devaluation of our local currency and how she and her government have failed to lead by example.
Apart from DPP zealots, no one denies that the devaluation of our local currency in May was a necessary evil that the Reserve Bank had to implement in a bid to help bring forex back to our banks and our bureaux so that businesses could start producing again thereby revitalising the economy.
One did need not to be to an economics graduate from London School of Economics to know what this would entail on take-home pay of workers.
This was compounded by the budget Finance Minister Dr. Ken Lipenga tabled in Parliament in June which had in store for an average Malawian more pain than joy as it provided lukewarm tax relief and the safety net initiatives it had to cushion the poor from the effects of devaluing the Malawi kwacha have not made a huge difference.
And so it is a fact that the 21 percent average salary rise of civil servants has just been absorbed by Pay As You Earn tax and other attendant deductions to make any meaningful impact.
To cut a long story short, this was going to be trouble for Malawians right from the word go yet a necessary one to put the economy damaged by the excesses of the previous DPP regime firmly on track.
What remained was the leadership to lead by example of not only advocating for austerity but being seen to lead in carrying frugality measures in public expenditure.
My humble take in this regard is that the President, her Cabinet ministers and even MPs have massively let the country down, because like the pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus’ time, they want Malawians to suffer the pangs of devaluation alone while they wallow in opulence and unbridled extravagance.
Apart from grounding the jet which Bingu wa Mutharika bought, it has been business as usual for the President whose mile-long motorcade is on road everyday, blowing millions of kwacha with her Cabinet ministers who accompany her wherever she goes.
Actually ministers’ accommodation allowance has been raised by 80 percent.
MPs, on the other hand, demanded 137 percent raise on their perks and they have been given a 28 percent raise to their basic pay.
The point I am belabouring here is that while we all must appreciate that devaluation was the necessary pain that we all have to endure to get better, our leaders have not shown us the way. They are aloof and life is normal.
The strikes that have engulfed this nation and threatening to cripple an already damaged economy could have been avoided if the President, her Cabinet ministers and MPs practised what they preached about frugality. They could have shown the way by, let’s say, taking salary cuts.
It’s not an unprecedented move. It is what their counterparts in UK and US have ever done to galvanise the nation towards frugality in order to save the nation’s economy.
The truth is Malawians have not been made to buy into the necessity of devaluation. The whole issue has been a public relations fiasco and the results are the justifiable strikes everywhere.
Workers are wondering why they should bear the full brunt of devaluation when leaders are clamouring for the national cake, hitting the road earning millions in allowances. It does not just make sense just like it did not 2000 years ago when Jesus condemned it.