I have noted with delight that there is much interest in my plans to trim the powers of the president. Because of that interest, I am confident that when this project is well underway, it will have your full support.
Reducing presidential powers is something that is often promised but never delivered, but I think you know by now that I do not say something unless I mean to do it. But to get this done, I need your support. The reduction of presidential powers is a collective effort. As such, it is important that we all understand what these powers are. In summary, the
presidency has four kinds of powers.
The first category of powers a president has is positional. In our jurisdiction, there are certain positions and offices that are reserved for the president alone, such as the positions of Head of State, Head of Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. However, believe it is time we reviewed the merits of having the president also occupy an office like the Chancellor of the public University.
This is a relic from a bygone era that we need to part with, for I know of no free country in which the State President is put at the helm of an educational institution that exists to produce free thinkers. That is one
example of positional powers that need to be revisited.
The second category of powers a president has is executive. This has to do with certain decisions that are reserved for a president to make. It is my view that there are too many decisions made by a president, so I mean to
reduce that. Having a presidency that makes too many decisions has created problems for our country for a long time. Chief among them is that it has stifled a culture of responsibility and innovation among public institutions and private citizens. Even as parents in our homes, we know that rigidly concentrating too much decision-making power in the parents hinders a child’s ability to develop critical life skills.
This is a mistake we must stop making at a national level. There must be decisions that when made by Parliament are final, and even where the President has the power to veto such decisions, he should no longer be allowed to sabotage the governance framework by sitting on the decision. That does not mean there aren’t matters on which the presidency is the right office to make a decision, but we need to remove from that list the decisions that do not belong there, and those decisions that do belong there need to be safeguarded by minimum requirements of transparency to and checks and balances from other institutions.
The third category of powers a president has is that of appointments. From the Judiciary, to the Legislature, to the Executive, all the way to
constitutionally mandated institutions designed to operate independently, the boards of statutory corporations, foreign embassies, and Traditional leaders, we have the anomaly of having all of them look to the president as
the appointing authority. This is unwise. No person is good or humble enough to be entrusted with that much appointing power, for it is not possible for a president to be the appointing authority of that many offices without at some point coming face to face with a conflict of interest.
The issue of conflicts of interest brings me to the fourth category of
presidential powers, which is cultural. We as a country need to review our behaviors towards a president, because how we behave around a President is what creates a national perception of how much power he or she has. This includes how we address a president, how many times a president is mentioned in salutations at a single event, how many cars and firepower a president’s convoy has, and so forth. Within this category is also something
that is sensitive, but which we must think about as a nation. During the campaign for the 2020 fresh presidential elections, I noted that many
political campaigns conducted by state officials were using state resources like state vehicles and state security. We need to think about the limits and parameters of this culture because it is now regularly abused. Even if it may not be possible to fully separate state resources from the activities of political parties, we need rules that clearly spell out when the overlap between party and state is acceptable and when it is abusive.
When I propose legislation to address these inconsistencies, I ask you to support me by demanding that your Member of Parliament vote for these changes. Malawi needs a more empowered citizenry, and the only way to
achieve that is to see to it that the powers of governance institutions that serve the people directly increase and the powers of the president decrease.
I thank you for listening. God bless you and God bless Malawi.