PP, DPP and MEC: Malawi’s dysfunctional bedfellows

A circulating story suggests that money acquired from the sale of Malawi‘s presidential jet cannot be traced. I’m talking a whole U$D15, 000, 000. Okay, so let me get this straight: President Bingu wa Mutharika, DPP, diverted DFID funds to procure a presidential jet without authorisation. In its turn, the PP government of President Joyce Banda has sold the jet but the proceeds are missing? What a situation! What a country!

Meanwhile, rumours suggest that the jet was not so much sold as merely parked outside Malawi and Mrs. Banda still uses it on some outings. I hope, for our country’s sake, that this is just someone’s idea of a sick joke and has no foundation in fact.

However, it seems clear that when it comes to accounting for public money, the previous DPP government and the current PP government merge into one miasma of misinformation. As the jet story illustrates, the two parties share a sinister penchant for sleight of hand regarding administering and accounting for public finances.

Banda (L) and Mutharika

Banda (L) and Mutharika

Indeed, the Joyce Banda administration repeats at every opportunity that the infamous looting of the people’s money dubbed Cashgate started in 2005 during DPP government. As we know, this practice is still ongoing. The current government has done a lot but not enough to either speedily bring suspects to justice or to recover stolen public money and/or property.

Palaces and mansions built by civil servants and politicians who could not afford them on their legitimate earnings remain firmly under their ownership despite all Cashgate revelations and arrests. This administration has simply not acted fast enough nor effectively enough to restore public confidence in its remedial actions in the face of this monumental looting.

Arthur-Peter Mutharika and the MHC

And it’s not just about Cashgate. The Joyce Banda administration has abdicated its responsibility to recover Malawi Housing Corporation property obtained by Arthur-Peter Mutharika and other DPP officials while Mutharika’s older brother was President of the Republic a few short months ago.

According to news reports of the time, Arthur-Peter Mutharika paid K7, 295, 255.75 to acquire a Nyambadwe MHC house formally evaluated at K14, 800, 000. President Bingu wa Mutharika, his family and some members of his party’s politburo were implicated in the same acquisitions. The properties had apparently not been advertised for sale. The distinct impression left by press reports was of a massive, fraudulent self-enrichment scheme. The media suggested that the MHC lost a total of K105, 000, 000 in these scams.

What is baffling is the failure so far of the Joyce Banda administration to return these properties to their rightful owners, the people of Malawi, and to prosecute those who were involved in the gluttonous malfeasance. Perhaps this is what Mrs. Banda meant at her swearing-in two years ago when she vowed ‘no vengeance’ against those who were her tormentors in the DPP while she served as an ostracised Vice President.

But reclaiming stolen property and prosecuting thieves is not about revenge; it is about promoting and upholding the rule of law, constitutionally required of the person holding presidential office in the Republic of Malawi.

Treason Suspect as Presidential Candidate

Moreover, by having Arthur-Peter Mutharika, a man charged with Treason, as one of the presidential candidates in this election, Malawi joins the ranks of dubious, if not laughable, ‘democracies’. The presumption of innocence notwithstanding, Treason is one of the most serious crimes on the books and it is simply crazy that someone answering that charge can freely be standing as a candidate for the highest office in the land.

If he wins he will, of course, enjoy presidential immunity from any prosecution. By allowing suspects of serious crimes to stand as Presidential candidates, therefore, the Malawi Electoral Commission offers an escape channel for fugitives from prosecution. It is a free pass because even if one may say the person could be prosecuted after they have served as President, we all know this is unlikely if not impossible in our circumstances. With all due respect to the MEC, this is not the role it is supposed to be playing.

Surely there ought to be a law that prevents people charged with serious crimes, e.g. crimes for which one can be sentenced to a certain minimum number of years in prison or to death, from contesting for presidential elections. The MEC already bars people from contesting based on much less serious situations. In these elections, for example, reports indicate that Professor John Chisi has been disqualified as a presidential candidate for maintaining a public office as a lecturer at the College of Medicine. Surely remaining a university lecturer is a much less serious problem, if it is a problem, than being charged with the crime of Treason!

Bedfellows in Ruining Malawi

The PP and the DPP, because of the gargantuan looting and corruption that have been reported under their watch, are a double-barrelled threat to Malawi’s prosperity. Being a ruling party official or member should not free one from prosecution for theft and corruption nor from the requirement of restitution of the stolen property or money.

Revelations that President Bingu wa Mutharika (DPP) and his family stole over 61 billion Kwacha from the public purse; the sale of the presidential jet allegedly without compensation; and the daily revelations in the media regarding the Cashgate crisis under President Joyce Banda (PP), combine to make 2004 – 2014 Malawi’s decade of stagnation and lost opportunities. We thus approach our golden jubilee of independence with despair. There ought to be visible and tangible consequences for these crimes and let the chips fall where they may.

In addition, some of the eligibility rules governing presidential candidacy are conspiring to lower the bar on the quality and integrity of our system and threaten our future as a country which adheres to the rule of law. Breaking the law has to have consequences. Running for President should not be for those answering serious criminal charges. Does anyone really believe that theft and corruption will effectively be fought, and law and order restored, if Treason suspect Arthur-Peter Mutharika is – God forbid! – elected President of the Republic? If we were able to talk to the dead, what would his answer be if the question were put to Robert Chasowa?

  •  The author, Ambuje che Tom Likambale, is from Balaka Township, Malawi
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