The forensic audit conducted by the RSM Risk Assurance Services LLP of the United Kingdom covering the period 2009 to 20114 has handed 13 cases files to the Auditor General for onward transmission to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) but wants further work on 38 of the 50 cases the firm examined.
“Businesses and transactions selected do not indicate guilt or innocence but merely provide possible warning signs of fraud,” the report says.
Malawi’s self-enriching officials need to know they will be judged not just by an imperfect judicial system, but by generation upon future generation of their compatriots.
Nyasa Times reproduces below an abridged verison of Nick Wright article in Africa Arguments on Malawi ‘cashgate’ affair.
A history for the future
As the full scale of Cashgate emerges, it is provoking some wider reflections in Malawi on national identity and public responsibility. The scandal saw officials use their public office to enrich themselves massively, but this phenomenon is far from unique in the country as the record of its presidents shows.
Starting with Hastings Banda, an investigation found that he had accumulated at least $320 million in personal assets while in office. His successor Bakili Muluzi, who ruled from 1994 to 2004, had been a small-time businessman but also lived in great opulence as president. He faced corruption charges after stepping down, but as a Commonwealth special envoy, he is now supping with the notorious king of Swaziland and his teenage wives. His prosecution for financial wrongdoing is losing momentum, while his son, Atupele, is a cabinet minister in Peter Mutharika’s government.
The next man, Bingu wa Mutharika, commissioned a vast private palace while in the top job. Located in Thyolo and built for Bingu by a grateful Portuguese roads-contractor Mota Engil, the residence towers like a stranded white whale over the neighbouring houses of poor tea-estate workers. Brother Peter inherited the property.
Meanwhile, Joyce Banda, who completed a brief term from 2012 to 2014, now spends all her time in voluntary exile, feted by the international community but refusing to answer questions in Malawian courts about the disappearance of 24 billion kwacha ($43 million) during a mere six months of her presidency between April and September of 2013.
Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, is now being described as a kleptocracy in some circles, and international aid is drying up. The contrast between the lives of the majority of the population and elites caught with suitcases of stolen government money – not to mention those who successfully enriched themselves over years in power – are as clear to see as ever.
Malawians are now awaiting details of the latest scandal to emerge, but as they do, a deeper question is also being asked: Namely, while the country’s political leaders do not seem to fear the judicial system enough to deter them from fraud, why do they also not fear the judgement of posterity?
One possible answer to this is that Malawi’s leaders have little sense of history and their own place in it. Of course in order to tackle a culture of impunity, the country’s institutions will have to be strengthened in various ways. But at the same time, perhaps Malawian academics also need to be invited, as a matter of urgency, to write a new History of Modern Malawi – a history that will give the country’s leaders a sense of posterity to which they will one day be answerable.
A sense of the modern history of the country is lacking in Malawi, and although a new understanding of this history would not end impunity or high-level fraud, it might help create a sense of unity and highlight the fact that Malawi’s leaders are accountable to their people and their country not just now but forever more. It would remind those that might be tempted to enrich themselves to the detriment of their country that they will be judged not just by Malawi’s imperfect judicial system, but by generation upon future generation of their compatriot.
- Nick Wright is the former Malawi correspondent for Africa Confidential and was previously a history lecturer at the University of Adelaide.