Malawi cashgate: Putting President Joyce Banda under microscope

She is criss-crossing the country presiding over various functions which the opposition argues should be covered by cabinet ministers or some senior government officials. But the president has put her foot down that she will continue doing so “to help the grassroots” that she usually dubs as “these friends and relatives of mine.

Her Peoples Party came defiant last week when it lashed out at the critics that do not like her frequent movements and giving out of handouts. The party through deputy secretary general Ireen Chikuni said it is unfortunate and un-Malawian to ask a leader and ofcourse anybody else to stop giving out handouts to the poor.

“She started that long way before even becoming President. There is nothing strange about it. This country has many poor people who need support and stopping somebody from helping such people is really uncalled for,” said Chikuni.

The President also came under attack from the media for organizing “mass rally” press conferences. The media argue that presidential press conferences should not be dominated by politicians and party zealots who intimidate journalists that ask “tough” questions to the president. That has been the trend from Bakili Muluzi regime. There seems to be no agreement between the media and State House on that.

These are some of the shortfalls characterising the current administration. And now there is a big test for the JB administration thus to deal with the so called Capitol Hill Cash gate scandal. It all depends on how the president handles the phenomenon to earn herself a free ride in next year’s elections or not.

In the cashgate scandal civil servants, contractors and others were conspiring to defraud government of huge sums of money. How has the president handled the matter so far?

Nyasa Times analysis shows that so far, 25 people have been arrested, including civil servants, police officers, workers at banks and private sector accomplices. Prosecutors will soon be moving courts to conclude the cases with due speed.

 

The crack-down has also led to the arrest of the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Parks and Wildlife Tressa Namathanga Senzani on October 21 and chief tourism officer Leonard Kalonga on October 17 this year. Namathanga was arrested for instructing the Ministry “to make payments in favour of her company, Visual Impact, for no service supplied or offered to government” whereas Kalonga is suspected to have “corruptly employed the services of various people owning companies and defrauded Malawi Government of large sums of money.”

 

Government continues to freeze the bank accounts of those suspected to have participated in the looting of public funds pending investigations and reclaiming of those monies by the government.

Government has made several moves to try to bring sanity to the “dilapidated” condition the country has found itself within a very short period of time. Is it a sign of political will as others claim? What has the current administration done so far in fighting bad governance?

Our investigations show that the Ministry of Justice has completed the profiling of suspiciously acquired properties, including real estate. The list of properties is currently being reviewed in compliance with the law. Once the necessary approvals have been done, government will move in to seize/forfeit the suspicious properties.

Government has tabled the enhanced Declaration of Assets Bill and Parliamentary Committee concerned is fine-tuning it.

So far, government has finalized an enabling legislative framework for seizing/forfeiting property suspected to have been acquired through stolen public funds. A special unit for this purpose has already been set up at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

President Joyce Banda has made staff changes at Executive Management level in key Ministries and Departments to create an enabling environment for investigations as well as to help bring in new and better work cultures. Such changes have taken place at Police where there is now new head of the Criminal Investigations Department and a new deputy Inspector of General put in place.

Changes have also taken place the Anti Corruption Bureau. The president has appointed Reyneck Matemba, a very senior government lawyer, to be deputy director general. Some analysts have described this move as a sign the president’s unwavering commitment to end fraud and corruption in Malawi.

Commentators say the pilferage is a result of weak systems that previous administrations failed to strengthen as well as due to a rotten ‘organizational culture’ that has taken root in the Malawi Civil Service for decades. President Banda attests to this.

Of course, Banda has vowed to transform Capital Hill into an ethical, disciplined and patriotic Civil Service and at she has to brace herself up for tough time as victims may try to make her life difficult to achieve such.

The journey continues….

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