Talking Blues: Like one Tantalus, we are tantalised; till when?

The Curse of the House of Atreus is known by all scholars of Greek mythology. In this myth, Zeus cursed one family for six generations.

Although the story bears Atreus’ name, it started before he was born.

The story starts with Pelops, the son of Tantalus, one of Zeus’ many sons.

Through treachery and a king’s death, Pelops married the king’s daughter. His betrayal was aided by one of the king’s servants to whom he had promised a night with the bride once the duplicity succeeded.

However, with the king out of the way, Pelops had a change of mind. He ditched the promise and ordered the man killed. Facing death, the servant cursed Pelops and his entire line. He even sent the curse backwards to include Pelops’ father, Tantalus.

As if the curse was not enough, Tantalus aggravated matters by questioning the gods’ omniscience.

He decided to “test” the gods by slaying his son – now King Pelops – and feeding him to the gods and duping them that the flesh was from an ox.

In his deluded thinking, if the gods saw through his trick, they were indeed all-knowing. When the gods came, they instantly saw his duplicity and Tantalus was banished to the underworld, where he was condemned to stand in a pool of water near a fruit tree. When he tried to pick the fruit, the branch rose beyond his reach, and the pool receded when he tried to drink the water.

And thus was born the English word “tantalised” because Tantalus was eternally tormented by the sight of things unobtainable.

The curse continued, torturing the family line until the final progeny, Orestes, who never married and had no living family, died.

What do we make of all this?

Let us digress.

As you know, we have now chalked 58 years as an independent nation with nothing to show. We now have the sixth post-independence President who, going by his Independence Day speech, badly needs someone to tell him that: “Mr President, you are walking about in the state Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda found the people of Mwanza-Neno in 1958!”

Why do I say this?

Because it is becoming abundantly clear that the President is living an alternative reality. In the fictitious Malawi he is living in, he has transformed Malawi and soon and very soon, we will all be prospering together, eating thrice a day, and giddy from over-drinking from the chalice of the Hi-5, which already ‘runneth over’.

Two developments demonstrate either the President’s nakedness, i.e. ignorance of reality OR Pelops-like duplicity. For all I know, both nakedness and ignorance could be in play.

Musing on duplicities veiled as inconsistencies between the President and his Spokesperson on reducing presidential powers was Prof Garton Kamchedzera. “Do presidential spokespersons in Malawi speak the mind of the President?” he asked.

This question was triggered by an about-face made by one daily, which rightly reported that at this past week’s State House Briefing, Malawians were told in plain words that reducing presidential powers was no longer a priority for President Chakwera.

That daily on Independence Day, 6 July carried a ‘clarification’ about its  5 July frontline headline where it had, correctly, in my view, summed up the State House Press Briefing as saying that Chakwera no longer had any appetite to reduce his powers.

The daily seems to have been strong-armed to “clarify” that reducing presidential powers had “just” been put “on hold to prioritise review of other laws.”

Prof Kamchedzera found both the message as relayed at the State House Presser and in the said daily’s confusing when one recalls President Chakwera’s address of 8 August 2020:

“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 it will have your full support when this project is well underway.”

He went on, “…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.”

Professor Kamchedzera notes that this “was in full tandem with one of his Hi-5 Agenda tenets: servant leadership”.

President Chakwera went deeper:

“I ask you to support me by demanding that your MPs vote for these changes. Malawi needs a more empowered citizenry. The way to achieve that is to increase the powers of governance institutions and decrease powers of the President.”

Only for his Spokesperson to trash all that, saying:

“The President is concentrating on making changes to the legislation on laws that affect Malawians directly. You have seen the Chakwera administration bringing to Parliament land laws and very soon will be laws to do with sedition.”

Wonders Prof Kamchedzera: “How do we explain Chakwera’s unilateral declaration that trimming presidential powers is not a priority?”

The incidences mused upon by Professor Kamchedzera are not isolated. As if the duplicity, which some might call treachery “mused on,” is not enough, there is this little matter of amending some provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) intended by the Legal Affairs Committee (LAC) of Parliament to free the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) from the merciless shackles of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

At the last sitting, the Legal Affairs Committee (LAC) of Parliament had an amendment ready for debate and was stopped at the last minute by a presidential assurance that the bill would be tabled as a government bill.

Apparently, the government wanted to claim credit for the amendment and peddle it as fulfilling an MCP campaign promise to truly free the ACB.

This doesn’t seem to be President Chakwera’s bona fide motivation for usurping the bill. From the lack of progress, I surmise that the government commandeered the bill to sit on it for fear that the ACB would go after some sacred cows if freed.

As per the Ministry of Justice spokesperson Pirirani Masanjala:

“Government is not taking this amendment to Parliament during this meeting. The amendment removing the requirement for consent from the Criminal Practices Act must be debated in Parliament alongside the constitutional amendment to Section 100.

“Section 100 of the Constitution says the powers vested in the DPP, including to institute and undertake prosecutions or criminal proceedings, are exercisable by the DPP or subject to the DPP’s general or special instructions, or through an Act of Parliament by persons in public service acting as his/her subordinates or such other legally qualified persons on instructions from the DPP. ACB is one such institution in the public service.”

Malawi Law Society President Patrick Mpaka disagrees and states that the CPA could be independently amended without touching on the Constitution.

He argued that the requirement of consent from the DPP takes away with one hand what the same CPA, Section 4(3), gives to the bureau – freedom to exercise its powers and functions independent of the direction of any person or authority.

“Given the unique and special and broader purpose of the anti-corruption law as outlined in sections 10, 11 and 12 of the Corrupt Practices Act, and given the role which that specific anti-corruption law plays in advancing the developmental and economic needs of ordinary people, this proposed amendment would be a move in the right direction to invigorate the fight against corruption and to accord real independence to the ACB in the nation’s quest to curb corruption at high places.”

I ask again, what do we make of all this?

Rather than offer an answer, I will leave this question to you.

I will just say that, like Tantalus, we stand in a pool of water near a fruit tree. When we try to pick the fruit, the branch rises beyond our reach, and the pool recedes when we try to drink the water.

For how long

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