Sometimes when a story breaks, it’s wise to step back for a little while and wait for it to fully develop, before making any comment or asking any questions. Doing this in my view allows the mud to settle, allows the story to fully form, and allows for the indefensible to be revealed.
The other day, about 2 weeks ago, I read a piece on the Malawi Nation website that said that President Peter Mutharika’s salary had been increased by 80%. Ministers and the leader of the opposition also received a 168% increment, while MP’s received a 376% hike. The piece made for interesting, if not shocking reading, since not too long ago in August of this year, Peter Mutharika rejected a 600% salary increase proposed by ministers. After the announcement on 6th December 2014, the acting Clerk for Parliament said that the structure of the new salaries had been in effect from 1st October 2014. Which means barely 2 months on from the time that he refused to increase minister’s salaries, something had caused Mutharika to change his mind?
Predictably, the large raises were condemned by many sections of the Malawi public as wanton and insensitive when many people, especially poor people, were still suffering the effects of the devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha.
Two days after the Salary hikes were announced, Lazarus Chakwera, the leader of the opposition, released a press statement, criticising the pay hikes, and saying he had not been previously consulted of the increases. However, he didn’t say whether he would reject the increases.
Then began a game of blame shifting, with the president’s camp saying that the President Mutharika had in fact not authorised the increases, while some commentators placed the blame on the IMF, who apparently gave advice (including the increments) in order to harmonise pay in the SADC region. Further, it was suggested that some officials had acted without Peter Mutharika’s authority, bypassing the parliamentary procedure and essentially doing something which they were strictly speaking not supposed to do. But as of now, nobody knows who those officials are. Chakwera called the president a hypocrite and accused him of trying to divert attention from real issues. The president’s officials through the Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture called Chakwera a ‘modern day Pharisee‘.
Probably sensing that the scandal wouldn’t go down well with the people, the president and vice president deferred their salaries, until ‘the country’s economy recovers’, although numerous commentators concluded that public pressure forced the deferment.
But what exactly is going on? Aren’t salary increases for public officials supposed to be voted upon by Parliament? And isn’t it essential for the President to authorise such increments? How then can Mutharika claim ignorance when the increments were in fact applied? Also, if the IMF explanation is true, how can any sensible leader listen to an international organisation whose advice doesn’t seem to take account of the plight of the local population?
On a lighter note, Mutharika hosted a pre-Christmas party this week for children from Lilongwe. During his speech to the invited guests, he was quoted to have said that
“..This party has been organised by our money and that from well wishers. There is no one tambala for the government, so I don’t mawa somebody kumati fwee fwee fwee fwee, ndipanga demonstrations and so forth …”
Well wishers. That term again. Oh no!
Some of the readers here will remember who abiti/ amayi meant when she talked about well-wishers? Shady organisations with military links who ‘buy’ your country’s presidential jet practically for free (as the money was never accounted for), as long as they promise to ferry you around the world every now and then. They donate to your party, and in turn are paid (by the government) huge sums of money for supplying ‘military equipment’ nobody gets to see, including some overpriced and outdated patrol boats that are of no real use to anybody. In the end, the well-wishers make a huge donation to your US-based foundation…. Well-wishers eh?
Someone please tell Mr President not to use that term, ever again…because well-wishers seldom give anything away for free.