Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
It hasn't been a great week for the government. Khumbo Kachali, the guy who is supposed to be in charge of the country now, is still smarting from his rather sloppy gaffes of recent times. Wide-cat strikes may be off the headlines now, thanks to the 25 per cent that has been doled out to most workers, but the grumbling is still there for all to hear.
The village President Joyce Banda is said to have taken to New York to witness her maiden speech at the United Nations hasn't helped matters. US $1m may not sound like a lot of money but for a poor country that is struggling to pay its wage and fuel bills that is astronomical.
The Joyce Banda administration, trying as it is doing to be in good books with donors, can't afford such blatant obscene extravagance. No matter how her press aide Steve Nhlane tries to justify the expenditure by contrasting it with her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika's, 40-plus people to the UN is an expense no poor country must bear. Bingu may have taken another village to the US, may be two, but do they not say two wrongs do not make a right?
Joyce Banda's Peoples' Party administration is calling for austerity from all of us. How can we heed the call when she seems to be flaunting money around with reckless abandon herself? If Bingu took four chiefs to the UN just for them to clap hands for him and she takes two chiefs to clap hands for her, what is the difference?
We know she inherited an almost comatose economy but it does not help her cause for her to be seen to be careless with her spending.
And fuel queues seem to be back in town. Central Bank chief Charles Chuka confesses that the fuel queues are a result of lack of forex. This does not auger well with President Banda's statement soon after taking office that she has solved the forex gridlock. What now? Déjà vu? Did the donors not say they would give us the much-needed dollars once we devalued the kwacha and let it float according to market forces? Were we bluffed?
Of course, I am not that naive to think that we had much choice about the devaluation. We had to devalue the artificially strong kwacha whether we liked it or not. But Joyce Banda's opponents will still justifiably rap her fingers for losing the grip on the kwacha, thanks to the donors. What with commodity prices shooting through the roof with reckless abandon daily.
I was in Lilongwe most of the past week and we struggled to get diesel. This is contrary to what we were meant to believe when Joyce Banda ascended to power. The script was like the fuel queues spectacle was a thing of the past for donors were now back in town.
So the spectre of the fuel queues is quite depressing. Surely Bingu's apologists will be gleeful. Bingu's arrogant defiance against devaluation will start making sense somehow. "We told you so," his supporters will say. They will hammer Mama Joyce with questions like where are the donors who promised us heaven and earth? Where is the booty they promised us? Were they just bluffing us to smite Bingu?
Britain and Germany cheekily say we have to wait until 2015 although the 'Boys from Berlin' came back to say they never really said that. But they did not tell us what they really said and when the money will start rolling in.
Great Britain, our largest aid donor - while not disputing the 2015 date, told us we have to appoint an Anti-Corruption Bureau director and an Auditor-General among other things. What cheek is that? Do they not know we are still scrutinising CVs to see who is orange enough?
But seriously does it not really bother the mind why appointing people to such offices should really be an issue? Do we not have qualified folks in the system?
Bingu and his eccentric antics may be dead and buried at 'Mpumulo wa Bata' but we are sure to be hounded by them for a long time.
Hey, listen to what Bingu's legal advisor is saying. Allan Ntata is spewing mud all over. He says, for instance, that Foreign Affairs Minister Ephraim Chiume was at the fore-front of trying to block Joyce Banda from ascending to office when he was Justice Minister the time the old man dropped dead. Chiume, of course, is dismissing these claims with disdain but I guess that is an interesting area we aught to explore.
By the way, how many in Joyce Banda's government put roadblocks on her ascendancy to power? Plenty, if you ask me. But these same people are at the core of her government. That makes politics quite interesting. It seems principles and morals do not count that much that side.
And the UDF is still doing what it knows best: killing itself softly, as it were. Do the men and women who run the once-upon-a-mighty-party know the irritation they cause on the lot of us by their senseless never-ending bickering?
Salary cut, fine, but...
Vice-President Khumbo Kachali on Friday announced that he and his boss are taking a salary cut of 30 per cent as one way of showing that they are suffering with the masses in these days of devaluation. He called it "equitable austerity".
This is quite commendable indeed. Many leaders have done this when their economies hit turbulent times. Just recently US comedian Jay Leno also volunteered a salary cut just to save jobs for his staff whom TV network NBC would have retrenched.
But this supposedly good gesture must be followed up with a cut in other activities that the presidency undertakes that drains the coffers. Frequent travel, which Khumbo himself infamously insulted our mothers for recently, is one of them. It may not matter much if the President and the Vice-President take a salary cut but end up all over the place doing mundane things like opening internet cafes.
Each time the President and the Vice-President travel there are always hordes of officials, security and hangers-on. These do not come cheap. All of them, including the President and the Vice-President, claim huge allowances every time they travel.
The presidency should also look into its motorcade. We do not need 30 gas-guzzling limos to escort the President whenever she travels. A reasonable number of the motorcade would go a long way in saving costs.
It will be meaningless if Khumbo and Abiti take the cut in their basic salaries and still trot around within and outside the country aimlessly. Otherwise the salary cut is a good beginning; let them follow it up with other meaningful cost-cutting measures.
©2012 The Maravi Post.