Either the critics were chauvinistic or hypocritical when they called the then president Joyce Banda’s administration a flip-flopper. Most columnists and social media analysts called Banda clueless and accused her of running the country as if she was organising a bridal shower. And, not surprisingly, most women activists did not come to her defence.
Of course, Banda would irritate many with her public confessions that she was making decision at the behest of the donor community (andituma azungu). Memories are still fresh of her government’s announcement that it had no problems with same sex relationships, only to reverse the position after a backlash from the public.
Perhaps the critics have given up on perceived care-free attitude of the current Peter Mutharika administration. The Mutharika administration has been coming up with policy decisions, only to change them within 24 hours of their announcement. But not many have picked on such confusion.
To begin with, the President assured Malawians that the current power shortage would be dealt with, come rain or sunshine. The President explained how his administration was working on short-term measures to address the issue. As Malawians were trying to accept the bitter truth, the Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) said consumers would continue to grope in the dark until end of March. This is strange because we all know that the presidency is incapable of professing untruths.
Then the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) released a litany of harsh penalties for offenders of road traffic laws. In some cases, the fines would amount to as high as K200,000. And these were supposed to be paid on the spot. Malawians took to the social media to do what they know best: complaining and nagging before retiring to sleep in the dark.
Before the sun went down, the Ministry of Transport issued a statement dismissing the fines. DRTSS had no choice but tucked its tail between its two legs and announced that the fines had been suspended until further notice.
As if state institutions were competing to outdo each other in buffoonery, the water boards quietly raised their tariffs, without informing their clients as per fair trade laws. Consumers paid the new charges until our sister paper, The Daily Times, raised the issue. The line ministry sprang up and ordered the utility bodies to discard the new tariffs and promised a refund to the duped consumers. But to show that there was no honesty in the rebuttal, government neither outlined how it would refund the consumers nor gave a deadline to the gesture.
As if that was not bad enough, the Ministry of Finance said government had decided to issue a K5,000 note. There were justifications that the current notes are so devalued that they mean nothing to the buyer. It was said that the move was meant to spare the buyer a burden of carrying loads of bank notes just to buy a bag of maize. Malawians reluctantly accepted the fact that their currency had become useless to the point of calling for a K5,000 note. But in a surprise twist to the plan, the treasury, not RBM dismissed the assertions saying there were no such plans.
Malawians were left with a bitter after-taste: Was the veteran economist lying to us about the new notes? Did he rush in his pronouncement before the plans matured? Or was the ministry trying to save face?
The last in the line of gaffes was the not-so-surprising adjustment in tariffs by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom). Escom said it had hiked its charges by 25 percent in readiness for diesel powered generation of electricity. But Energy Minister, Aggrey Massi, rightly observed that there was no need for such an adjustment as Escom had already factored in the cost of running the generators in its budget.
However, Massi fell short of nullifying the intended hike. Meanwhile, Egenco appointed itself an Escom spokesperson on the matter. Egenco argued that Escom had budgeted to run the generators for four hours in a day but the prevailing electricity situation compels Escom to run the generators for 10 hours.
But such indecision has been denting the image of the government. Others think that there is no proper consultation before government comes up with a policy position. Still, some people think that the government is at the end of its wits and wants to be seen to be doing something.
Whatever it is, this flip-flopping passes for a bad movie, and not many Malawians are prepared to watch it to its very end.