Malawi situation in ‘cash-gate’ era: ‘Please suffer in silence, die quitely’

Please Suffer in Silence, Die Quitely: The Wishes and Aspiration of a Rogue Administration [Expression borrowed from Jan Lampracht, “Government by Deception”, (2002)]

Since the day the Cashgate Scandal came to light, the PP-led government has not done anything either by way of accepting blame or apologising to the nation. Rather, its stance has been two pronged – firstly, the public and the donor community must be grateful to the State President Dr. Joyce Banda for uncovering the looting. Secondly, this looting thing must not be considered news at all because previvious administrations have been doing the same thing; the abuse of IFMS is not unique to the JB Administration.

Bottom line? As far as to the JB Administration is concerned, there is “no crisis” (to borrow the words of the top Government Civil Servant, Hannah Ndilowe). Hence there is no need for desperate measures or unusual steps to deal with the Capital Hill cashgate scandal. This may come as a surprise to many who do not know the mind of JB. But those who know her well will tell you that this ladaiscal approach to grave matters is what characterises the JB Administration and, sadly, it now turning into her archilles heel, one that  risks her premature departure from Plot Number One.

By now it is common knowledge that the JB Administration did not uncover the IFMS abuse scandal. Rather, it was the amateurish, greedy and unscrupulous character of the PP officials, businessmen and technocracts that led to the uncovering of this issue. Because of childish behaviour, these thieves stopped being cautious and, because of greed, the sums of cash they were looting became bigger and bigger until they reached obscene proportions. Just think of it, who, on earth, cashes K1 billion? Really, cashing a K1 billion kwacha cheque? Take a look at the charge sheets in courts and caution statements at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) offices. The figures are just staggering. Greed.

Anyway, back to the point – there is no, single, Government official that has come forward to tell the nation what special or general measure the JB Administration put in place that lead to this discovery of grand larceny. If anything, these people were caught by sheer luck. It all started with some Mk120 Million being found in the boot or truck of some car. Then, immediately afterwards, a Budget Director being shot. From there one thing led to another until, now, cashgate is so common a term we will soon have children carrying such names before the end of this very year!

We are re-telling the story to demonstrate the point. Nobody – at least no, single, human being or institution – can claim the prize of having uncovered the looting, or even having provided information that led to the busting of Capital Hill cashgate. The only winner, if this were to be some contest, would be fate. Yes, destiny. The fortieth day for these thieves had come to pass and they were caught with their hands in the Proverbial Jar!editorial

Then there is the other JB standard response to the matter – this is not the first time large sums of money have been stolen from public coffers. In fact, so the JB teams says, larger amounts of money had been stolen before by previous administartions and their attendant public officials. Actually, at one of her Press Conferences, the State President, even went as far as saying that her predecessors actually stopped criminal investigations into the K400 Million theft scandal. To the embarrasment of the nation, her own officers immediately stepped forward to correct her by stating that the matter was, actually, still under investigation. If anyone has been in doubt about the situation, then this was one confirmation that the State President was not on top of matters she was talking about. [Can we say that this also throws some light into why as a Nation we seem not be sure of what we are doing at times? Or indeed, not knowing the extent of the gravity of the matter at hand?]

Now, to JB credit, she was right in accusing her predecessors of also dipping into the jar. But her predecessors’ financial scandals can be distinguished from the current one. To begin with, none of the past financial scandals involving IFMS involved top ruling party officials – at least not directly. Secondly, none of the previous cases of looting involved the President’s own office. But for JB’s administration it is just the opposite.

While the President was busy laying some foundation stone for some rural clinic, elevating some traditional chiefs or indeed distributing some cows to some villagers, millions upon millions of kwachas were being looted from her very office! All the while, the President is busy officiating small-time functions, accompanied by Ministers of Health, Ministers of Local Government and Minister of Agriculture and their Permanent Secretaries whose very job it is and not that of the President. And no, this article is not going to answer your question as to whether the President knows her job description. Respect, people, respect. But if you insist, let us just say, you guessed right.

So how did we end up here? We got ourselves here, simply put. But the genesis is that habit of ours of deliberately ignoring warning signs. We seem to have been plagued by some Barnabas Syndrome of sorts – we just love to be dared to do the unthinkable. Remember the last time someone warned us not to elect a particular person for pesident because he was a convicted thief? What did we do? We answered in chorus  – wakuba yemweyo!- that the thief was a better candidate as opposed to some Mr. Clean.

Well, this time around we were warned, again, that JB was not fit for the post as she was a woman used to very small business of selling mandasi, that she has a tendency to think small. You know how that one ended. In short, we were okay with that kind of thinking. To add salt to injury she actually boasts of being a mandasi woman who is very comfortable with fellow mandasi women. She even goes further to say that she is not ashamed of consulting everyone including her fellow mandasi women. And then, somehow, we are surprised when she implements mandasi decisions at state house – opening lodges and opening constituency party offices during office hours.

Is there a point to all this? Sure. The point is that this type of decision making process is not very helpful when a country is faced with huge challenges like the one facing us right now. The point being made here is that, as a country, we need to understand why she has taken the business-as-usual approach while the house is on fire.

As far as she is concerned, there is nothing to worry about when billions of Kwachas are illegally leaving the Capital Hill in the wrong company of party officials, junior civil servants and businessmen, taking them to their personal homes, or stuffing it in their car boots when suppliers of medicine at Central Medical Stores, contractor’s of health clinics and school or not being paid for their services; when teachers and nurses are all going for months without salaries. She sees nothing wrong with that.

The point being made, here, is that we should stop being shocked when she publicly scorns and rebuffs her own Finance Minister’s austerity measure of cutting down on local and external travels as one way of coping with the aid freeze.

To her, party politics is more important than managing the national economy. To her it is much more important to cement her international reputation than to rescue children and mothers dying in our health facilities due to lack of medicines and/or healthcare workers going on a strike.

And so, as far as her government is concerned, the public should accept matters as they are. If anything, the public should suffer in silence and those who are dying should do so quietly. The wishes and aspirations of the JB Administration are for the general public and, indeed, the civil society, to be quieter about the whole cash-gate scandal.

Luckily for us, Dayton Allen already prescribed a solution for us when he wrote: “the only way to combat criminals is by not voting for them”.

We have a rogue administration, people, and May 20th is just around the corner. Let us wise up, this time – just for once. Anything but this.

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