Once upon a time, there was a Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs called George Chaponda who, in his questionable wisdom, decided that of all things to legislate against, Malawi had to criminalise breaking the wind in public, crudely called puffing.
At that time, during the first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regime under Bingu wa Mutharika, the country was in an economic crisis: foreign currency shortages were so acute that businesses could not import anything in time.
The country had no fuel, with people sleeping on queues everyday at service stations waiting for fuel that rarely came.
People were dying in hospitals because there were no drugs. The laughable zero-aid budget was such a catastrophic failure that the DPP administration decided to embellish revenue figures in a desperate attempt to show that it was working. Economic growth, once one of the highest in the world, had retreated, throwing more people into the ultra poverty line and hitting enterprises hard.
Most donors—disgusted with Bingu’s arrogance, poor economic and political governance record, walked away with their money, which finances 40 percent of Malawi’s national budget.
Meanwhile, thieves were plundering the State Treasury in what is now known as Cashgate in which at least K577 billion in the five years leading up to 2014 was pilfered.
During that whole time of crisis, Chaponda and his then boss Bingu found it pressing that those who cannot press certain parts of their anatomy to avoid releasing some unpleasant gases—silently or quietly—should be jailed.
Chaponda even went on radio to defend his soiled proposed legislation that even his own Solicitor General at the time, Anthony Kamanga, told him to blow it away himself and refused to have anything to do with it.
The whole world was laughing—even American comedy show Saturday Night Live found folder for its production.
One of the poorest countries in the world was expending its energies on trying to bring to book folks with loose sphincter muscles!
This is the fellow who, now as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is shameless enough to tell my colleague Rex Chikoko that questioning suspicious spending of taxpayers’ money is too mundane to warrant a journalist’s time.
Said Chaponda of the breaking wind fame when Rex asked him to explain some names, including party sycophants, who were on the Malawi delegation to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, United States of America (USA): “As a Malawian journalist, you are wasting your time and energy on petty issues. I invite you to focus on Cashgate where your services could best be utilised to retrieve the money which was stolen or bring back people in hiding abroad.”
At a time the whole State machinery was in damage control over the UN trip expenses fallout, this is what APM’s chief diplomat vomits around New York?
With such gross ignorance of the role of the media, is there any wonder that this administration moves from one public relations disaster to the next with no coherent strategy for protecting the APM brand and projecting a better image than is currently the case?
Chaponda’s ignorance appears not to know boundaries. It looks like he has no idea who should be apprehending Cashgate thieves. He thinks it is journalists.
In the first place, it is not the duty of the journalist “to retrieve the money which was stolen or bring back people in hiding abroad”.
Chaponda is supposed to be a legal scholar who should know the State organs that should do exactly what he is suggesting Rex does. As journalists, we did our jobs exposing Cashgate and suspected culprits and we will continue to do so.
Telling us to go after suspects wherever they maybe holed up could only mean one thing: the Peter Mutharika administration has failed to deal with Cashgate and, in its desperation, is trying to solicit help in all the wrong places, including newsrooms.
Now, is that the message the President wants his chief diplomat to project to the international community from where Chaponda was speaking?
Worse, in trivialising legitimate questions that voters are asking about the use of their taxes, is Chaponda communicating that the administration does not take issues of austerity seriously or this regime just doesn’t care?
Does it mean that the poor soul gasping for breath, say at a Thyolo hospital, has no right to question why so many people are going to New York where they have drawn government allowances and got tax-payer funded air tickets when he cannot even get Aspirin at the health centre?
Coming two days after the President literally begged donors to help government feed 2.8 million starving Malawians; does Chaponda’s old fashioned arrogance and insensitivity help matters here?
Isn’t he ‘puffing’ all over the President’s begging bowl? Would donors be happy to put their food in the bowl that Chaponda has soiled with careless words loosened out without investing any form of a thought process?
And, most importantly, will Chaponda be allowed to get away with this arrogance? I mean, this fellow has just given Malawians the middle finger for trying to hold their government accountable!
- The article appeared in the ‘Cut-the-Chaff’ column in Weekend Nation newspaper under headline ‘Trust Malawi Minister Chaponda to say ridiculous things’