Cleaning the rot: Malawi parties must disclose source of funding

The current sitting of parliament is the best testimony that Malawians have a leadership they do not need. Amid the worst financial scandal ever Malawi, billions of public money has been stolen with impunity by both junior and senior civil servants. Yet, the best that parliamentarians can offer is business as usual partisan politics, they are busy arguing among across the floor. Who has looted more and who is a smarter thief, they are busy sparring to see who can emerge dignified in the face of public anger that could have a bearing on the 2014 tripartite elections outcome.

Education bill has been passed, the most anticipated declaration of assets bill has so far been sent back to public affairs committee, after some opposition identified some flaws in the bill. Making laws is of course one of the paramount duties of MPs but we know this bill is but only one of the major problems facing Malawi insofar as transparency is concerned.

Access to information bill, for instance has been gathering dust for over a decade now and it is not looking like it will be passed anytime soon. Even during this time when all caring Malawians, apart from few public thieves, are demanding transparency and accountability.

Members of political parties, Atupele Muluzi of UDF, right, and Leader of DPP in Parliament George Chaponda, in stripped necktie

I have been arguing before that the public thievery at Capital Hill is a symptom of a rotten nation, which has been natured in the last 20 years or so. Dilapidated national morals; we have lost Umunthu and unquenchable greed for things most of us cannot afford is killing Malawi. In Malawi, politics is the way out for people looking to feed their greed and not to serve the people they claim to represent. Even in the so-called developed democracies politics is not much cleaner either but folks who want to get rich in those countries tend to join financial institution. Hedge funds, for instance.

Social changes happen gradually and it is often difficult to pinpoint the period when social changes take place.

Nevertheless, Malawi is not the country it once was. It is naïve to pretend that we can turn back the clock now but it is important to look into rear-view mirror we are to appreciate societal changes. The Capital Hill looting has clearly shown us that there is a serious national problem: greed. What is the source of this greed and what drives it? The crux of the matter lies with our political system.

Those that have been paying attention will have noticed that the Capital Hill looting is now a political argument – not a national issue about public theft by civil servants, many of whom are believed to have strong ties with powerful politicians. This is mainly because politicians, especially in the ruling party, tend to influence public appointments. This is one of the key reason Malawians have lost any sense of patriotism. Folks owe their allegiance to their political parties and their political masters, not their country and fellow Malawians. You wonder whom were these folks owed their allegiance all these years because some of these political parties are less than three years old.

Ever wondered why most people tend to join the ruling party whenever there is a new administration? The lure is that those in the ruling party are sitting on stash of cash. Party royalists are rewarded with ministerial position(s), in parastatal boards etc. important government positions are filled party royalists regardless of their competences. The bloated cabinet that democratic Malawi has always have and limited number of technocrats in those cabinets is an example. Leaner cabinet means only a limited number of party royalists will get in; likewise, hiring a cabinet full of deserved technocrats risk alienating party royalists.

In Malawi, it is always the party in power that has money to burn. How many, if any, cars did People’s Party had on April 7 2012 when Joyce Banda took an oath to serve Malawi and its people? If Malawians are asking how senior politicians and civil servants acquired their wealth in the light of Capital Hill looting, why are we not also asking the same question of our political parties? Why are parliamentarians avoiding this debate? Is it because they are all queuing up to embezzle taxpayer’s money?

Political parties must declare their assets and their source of funding. This information must be open to the public. Any party that refuses to do so should not be on the ballot, as simple as that. It is not a coincidence that only a party in power has money to burn, it can afford campaign materials, it can afford to ferry people to and from political rallies etc. Yet, once out of power they have nothing. This discussion should be at the centre-stage of the current discussion on how to manage the public purse.

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