Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
This isn't a good time to be Khumbo Kachali. Straight from saying some zany things the embattled vice-president walked right straight into another blooper. Both the Karonga gaffe and its subsequent mea culpa and the Mponela faux pas don’t put our Citizen Number 2 in good light at all.
In both incidences Khumbo clumsily handled the subsequent fall out. Look, when he realised he had stuck his foot in his mouth, the guy apologised alright but if truth be told the apology was literally beat out of him. By using Information Minister Moses Kumkuyu to seek atonement for his gaffe on his behalf the vice-president displayed unbridled arrogance. Kumkuyu is supposed to be government spokesman but his ToRs must surely not include cleaning up personal mess of his bosses.
When he realised his half-hearted apology wouldn’t placate the offended Malawians, Khumbo swallowed his pride and publicly apologised. But that was also too little too late for he didn’t indicate whether he would now stay home longer than he would be on the road.
The Mponela incident exposed our leaders' lack of fore-sight. Surely someone must have realised that while resource rationalisation may be a government policy timing matters. There are not only by-elections in Mzimba but that also happens to be where the Minister of Health comes from. Now, the people of Mzimba committed no crime to produce a vice-president but perception matters in politics.
And the subsequent Ministry of Health knee-jerk statement didn’t help matters either. With one corner of its mouth, as it were, the ministry said the bizarre nocturnal relocation of the beds followed the resource rationalisation policy. It buttressed its claims by cataloguing other districts that had earlier benefited from such rationalisation of resources. Well and good, if the statement had ended there we could have lived happily ever after.
But, no, the wise men and women in the Ministry of Health - with the other corner of the ministry's mouth - said the relocated beds would be moved back to Mponela as soon as this weekend. (In fact by the time I was writing this a truck with the nomadic beds was already in Mponela.)
Now, now, now, who is fooling who here? If the ministry wants us to believe that what it did by removing the beds from Mponela to Mzimba was normal why the sudden change of heart? If it is true that Mponela has too much beds than it needs what is the point in returning the beds? Has there suddenly been an astronomical boom in patient population in Mponela that the "too much" beds have suddenly become "too few"?
What about the recipient bed-starved health facilities in Mzimba? Have they suddenly become bed-sufficient? Someone is playing with our intelligence here.
Khumbo has just created a double-edged sword for himself. Certainly the incident hasn’t hatched him many friends in Dowa. Whether the nocturnal bed-collectors misunderstood their instructions or not news of sick children being roused from sleep in the dead of the night and forced to sleep on cold floors will be on lips of many for a long time. Whether the Minister of Health was directly involved or not may not matter much. For the people of Dowa Khumbo will be a hate-figure.
But that isn’t all. This saga will also not endear him to the people of Mzimba. The people of Edingeni and Euthini were tantalised with the arrival of beds in their clinics only to see them taken away a few days later. Not many will understand the politics involved. People of Mzimba will see the vice-president as an undecided weakling with no spine. Protestations from his office that he wasn’t personally aware of the issue will hold no water. He is the minister after all, the PS may be the technical head of the ministry but certainly no major policy issue cannot be implemented without being bounced on the minister.
Perception, like I said earlier, matters in politics. That this issue took political undertones is without question. Surely the women politicians who swarmed Mponela don’t love the people of Mponela that much. They were simply advancing their political interests. Jean Kalirani might have overplayed the beds issue to gain political traction. But she is a politician anyway and politicians use anything to beat down their opponents.
So by curving in government has handed its opponents an easy victory. Khumbo Kachali, in particular, and the PP administration, as a whole, have come out of this saga with egg all over their faces. To have a whole vice-president booed and pelted with stones five months in office is not good omen for any government.
As for Khumbo, one major political gaffe in five months is one gaffe too many; to have two gaffes back to back is a disaster no politician must entertain if they want to stay long in politics.
(c) The Maravi Post