If money talks, what does it say?

In a decade of transition, fear of a leviathan state is giving way to increased focus on oligarchs who “capture the state.” In the capture economy, the policy and legal environment is shaped to the captor firm’s huge advantage, at the expense of the rest of the enterprise sector. This has major implications for policy.”  – Seize the State, Seize the Day: State Capture, Corruption, and Influence in Transition by Joel S. Hellman; Geraint Jones; Daniel Kaufmann http://elibrary.worldbank.org/docserver/download/2444.pdf?expires=1378216022&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=AAB75EB3959AF4548F474EBAEBE47FBA

“If Money Talks, What Does it Say? Corruption and Business Financing of Political Parties” is a book written by Iain McMenamin which every Malawian who claims to be informed ought to read, especially as Malawi heads to the polls next year.

As the title implies, the book responds to the contentious question: why do businesses or business magnates contribute to political parties?

More critically, it places business financing of political parties in the context of debates about political corruption, offers pertinent advice on political reforms, and encourages more public participation in the funding of (their) political parties.

For those who might want to purchase this treasure of a book, it is readily available on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Money-Talks-What-Does-Say/dp/0199665702.

Malawi Kwacha

Malawi Kwacha

What is State Capture?

Let us begin with the more familiar concept of corruption. Corruption is usually referred to either as bribery practice or as major embezzlement/ plundering of public resources – could be money or otherwise.

The former type of bribery is usually called administrative or petty corruption, and the latter is called grand corruption and includes bribes paid at higher levels e.g. public tenders.

There is a third form of corruption, less known but still very pervasive, found often but not exclusively in developing countries like Malawi and this is what is termed “state capture”.

This occurs when the ruling elite (or party) and/or powerful businessmen manipulate policy formation and influence the usually weak rules of the game (including laws,  economic regulations and institutions) to their own advantage http://www.freedomfromfearmagazine.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=233:understanding-state-capture&catid=49:issue-6&Itemid=186.

The captured economy is trapped in a vicious circle in which the policy and institutional reforms necessary to improve governance are undermined by collusion between powerful firms (and individuals) and state officials who extract substantial private gains from the absence of clear rule of law and get away with it, at the expense of the most marginalised.

Local Examples:

For instance, captor firms in Malawi have of late been receiving unfair advantages in the form of contracts mainly via the provision of public goods e.g. fertilizer subsidies, supply of medicines to hospitals etc. at a significant social cost.

The sand-blended fertilizer recently distributed in Malawi is one case in point; the other being the perpetual lack of drugs and equipment in hospitals.

The thing is: why should our politicians care, when through corruption they can access and afford quality fertilizer for their farms and estates; when our people are being duped with sand blended stuff?

Why should our politicians give a heck about well equipped hospitals when they can be air-lifted to South Africa – dead or alive – to be attended to in state of the art hospitals or morgues?

2014 – Behold People Power:

While some of the contributing factors to state capture are beyond the immediate control of ordinary citizens e.g. the poor implementation of economic reforms, the concentration of both economic and political power in the president; compounded by a weak and easily corruptible civil society; there is a way out.

Once in five years, the Constitution demands that people should queue at the polls to either retain or vote out a non-responsive government; and this is where Malawi is nearly at.

I laud the genius who came up with idea of soliciting funding from the public for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). That chap seems to have done his/her homework having learnt from recent history.

For those with selective amnesia, a few examples will jog their memory:

1994-2004:           There was a frenetic privatisation drive. How many Malawians benefitted? Where did the money go? Were the privatised companies sold for their worth? How many jobs were retained?

2004-2012:           Among others, the sceptre of Mulli Brothers Ltd, the very manifestation of state capture, arose: grabbing land from orphans at will, compromising justices of the law, securing – under dubious circumstances – huge loans and what have you from public institutions.

2012:                      Fertilizer tenders and drugs /equipment tenders awarded to the same old failures, widely believed to have been funding the current ruling party in its infancy

2014:                      Should Malawi go the same way?

While this list is not conclusive, but based on this, personally I say a “no” – enough is enough.

Garvey’s 2014 Dare:

I want to urge Malawians to demand to know who is funding their parties, and why and give me one reason – just one – why come 2014 – if the parties funded by vultures and vampires win – they will not skew the floor to award business and tenders to the oligarchs in repayment of the campaign funding often dressed up and masqueraded as “presidential initiatives”.

Or better still, I challenge all political parties, as per the Weekend Nation, to rethink and emulate the Malawi Congress Party (MCP); assuming they have not already fallen into the same old trap; and get rid of the vultures and seek public funding or publish the names of their funders.

Conclusion:

Until Malawians change their mind-set, the evils of letting a few business or affluent people fund political parties’ campaign, will continue haunt Malawi. Malawians will for eternity be crying foul when soon after electing a party into government, the party deserts them and starts pursuing hedonistic policies meant to appease the people who funded the campaign, at the expense of those who cast the votes.

To all fellow Malawians: the future of Malawi now lies in your hands. If it is true that money talks, it is worth considering what it is says. The implicit assumption, as concluded by someone, is that it gets the owner (of the money) what they want.

Let us unlearn bad habits, adopt enlightened practices and change first, the political landscape and consequently Malawi, for the better. It all begins with you.

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