Sorry, no relenting on bashing mediocrity
Honourable Folks, six months after the change of government, dust is now beginning to settle and the true colours of the JB administration are now emerging.
Do I like what I see? That is immaterial, especially now that government says donors have given it a thumbs-up. I guess, as has been the case in the past, this is what matters most to government.
Donors may contribute only 30 percent to the budget but government feels obliged to be held 80 percent accountable to them. The 70 percent contribution to the budget that comes from the taxpayer does not matter much. After all, it is a statutory obligation for the citizen to pay tax.
The only time those in government genuinely feel obliged to be accountable to us, the citizens, is during election time. It is at the ballot box where taxpayers, acting as voters, really matter to those in government.
I guess it is this kind of thinking that made Finance Minister Ken Lipenga describe as “vitriol” media criticism of President Joyce Banda.
Frankly, for the entire 25 years I have been in uninterrupted media practice, I do not remember a time when media criticism of those in government was anything but vitriol.
During the reign of Kamuzu, the media was expected to rally the people behind their beloved Ngwazi, the mighty MCP and government. Publishing anything else, regardless of whether it was true, was a boarding pass to detention without trial, if you were extremely lucky that is.
The multiparty dispensation defined a different role for media practitioners. Instead of being used as a propaganda tool for maintaining the status quo, the media was given a constitutional role of “Fourth Estate” or “watchdog for society.”
Its fidelity is not to people in government but the electorate. Its function is no longer to rally the people behind a president, the ruling party and government of the day. Rather, it is to empower the people with information which they can use to make informed decisions in their day-to-day lives and at the ballot.
As watchdog, the media does the muckracking where necessary to expose that which those entrusted with public office or money may try to hide.
In a country where 30 percent of government revenue is stolen every year, where corruption remains 50 percent above the Sadc average and where the asset declaration provision has been denied an enabling law for 18 years now, the media owes it to the suffering Malawians to name and shame the corrupt in government.
Again, the mess that JB’s predecessors made of our economy has resulted in the painful austerity measures and it is Malawians paying the price. Donors openly say we are on our own in footing the bill for the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s failed zero-deficit budget. On their part, they will give aid according to the programmes they have with government, period.
This has translated into a nation which had an economy growing at 7.5 percent and above every year for half a decade, being reduced to extreme poverty as growth domestic product (GDP) is now projected to limp at 1.6 percent.
Fuel prices, which trigger an increase in commodity prices, are rising every month. Electricity and water tariffs have gone beyond the roof; yet, power outages are now a daily affair and you will be lucky to get water running uninterrupted two days in a week, especially in Blantyre and Lilongwe.
Everything is going up while personal incomes are rolling down the cliff. Is it vitriol then to ask the President and Cabinet to seriously cut on luxuries? Is it vitriol to criticise her if she adamantly vows to continue with life as usual?
Of course, government is government, so they say, and there may be a price the media will pay for being a pain on the side of the powerful in government. Do I see the promised Access to Information Bill pushed to Parliament anytime soon?
The Mutharika administration used to argue that if the media was too powerful without the law, what more with it! Instead of Access to Information Act, the media was slapped with an amended Section 46 of the Penal Code which gave a minister power to prohibit publication of a newspaper.
What will the JB administration—made up of the same old faces that applauded and defended the arrogance of Mutharika—do with the nosy media which asks politically stupid questions such as: Which Cabinet member is given the contract to distribute fertiliser subsidies? Time will tell.