“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” ~ Thomas Paine
It looks like the reality of the so-called Zero-Aid Budget is slowly sinking in; it is now at the intersection where wishes and reality collide. For the first time President Peter Mutharika has publicly appealed to Malawians and corporations to honour their tax obligations as his government is slowly coming to terms with absence of up to 40% of budgetary support, which donors are withholding due to Cashgate, and the government’s subsequent failure to satisfactorily address the issue by bringing to book all the culprits and ensuring the donors that there will be no repeat of such a systematic looting of state resources by civil servants, politicians and private business people close to the ruling elite.
President Mutharika reportedly told a public rally recently in Balaka that: “let us all pay taxes to have some money to run our country. We are now on our own there is no one who is going to give us money.” Of course Mutharika is referring to the aforementioned frozen budget support. What is also important to note here is the fact that donor countries and donor agencies continue to fund some of the country’s key programmes in health sector, education, food security and many other areas.
This is important to acknowledge because it shows that donors are not out to punish Malawians in whose name the budgetary support is given. On the contrary this shows that donors are merely demanding accountability and transparency in how Malawi government run its finances.
Cynics would have questioned whether it was a coincidence that President Mutharika’s statement was made around the same time that his government finally released the much anticipated Cashgate audit report, which was instituted by the Joyce Banda administration as a way establishing exactly what happened and who was involved in the Cashgate scam.
I find it hard to believe that the audit report has genuinely been released for the benefit of Malawians. It is a curious report that makes you wonder what was it exactly that the government was trying to hide from the public because the report has very little if anything at all that was not already a public knowledge. Perhaps the secretive culture within Malawi government is now so entrenched that the government is even happy to hide empty information from Malawians just because it can.
Successive administrations in Malawi have ruled and do things with impunity, to the extent that now Malawi government or whoever is in power feel belittled when its taxpaying citizens demand what belongs to Malawians, including information. Yet, Malawi leaders are always happy to ask Malawians to be patriotic and make whatever contribution they can towards the advancement of the country.
Curiously, Malawi government has always felt more obliged to answer or make themselves more accountable to the donors, not its citizens. Well, expect when donors stand in the line of one’s political ambitions, Bakili Mulizi’s third term and Bingu wa Mutharika’s fallout with Joyce Banda when he wanted Peter Mutharika to succeed him comes to mind. Yet donors only contribute up to 40% of the budget, Malawians make up for the rest.
Perhaps Malawi government is aware that unlike Malawians, donors have the clout to act. Malawians are only good at whining. Perhaps this is where the government’s “so what” attitude towards its people comes from? Perhaps this is the same reason President Mutharika had the audacity to ask Malawians to honour their tax obligations when his government fails to take any steps towards ensuring transparency and accountability.
If Malawi government was willing to do things transparently there could not been any problems with be donors by now. This is all the donors are asking for. I am sure it is the same thing that every honest and patriotic Malawian would ask for.
Of course paying tax is a noble duty, as painful as it is. Yet, it also has to be said that paying tax is a social contract between government and its people. People pay tax in exchange for efficient public services delivery. Taxpayers have a right to demand receipts if they feel services are inadequate or if not rendered at all. Simple. Yet, demanding this kind of openness in Malawi is a controversial thing.
So, Mr President, please improve transparency and accountability within the government before you could ask for honest from the overtaxed Malawi taxpayers. Passing access to information bill, which I understand has been gathering dust for over a decade, and opening up on political party funding and political campaign expenses is a good start point. Otherwise how can you demand from your people what your own administration is unwilling to do? It is a give and take situation, not one-way traffic.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :