Where impunity rules: Joyce Banda and her misplaced priorities

Malawi is a country so often undergoing multiple crises. Every administration has had to deal with a crisis of some kind. The last two weeks have presented Joyce Banda with perhaps the toughest challenge of her 17 months old presidency. Chief among the current problems is the corruption saga at the heart of her administration, which includes the horrific shooting of Budget Director in the Ministry of Finance, Paul Mphwiyo.

There is a looming hunger, which has already affected over a million people countrywide. Admarc depots run out of maize as early as September, early estimates ate that 10% will face hunger between now and the next harvest; and relations with Tanzania are not getting better either. President Banda has always been happy to remind everyone of the crumbling economy she inherited, but these problems have cropped up on her watch, and they are hers to solve. For first time key donors have raise their concern over the worrying levels of corruption within her government.

It is a crunch time. Yet, President Banda’s priority has been attending United Nations General Assembly, where the most notable activity has been addressing the Assembly, the rest of the time has been ‘talking to investors’ thing that no one really see the outcome of. Yes, the trip was planned ahead some of these problems but the president has not even bothered to cut her trip shorter to come and attend to these critical issues. It is difficult to think of any organised state where its president would do that and get away with it. It is not mandatory for a head of state to attend the Assembly, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador decided not to attend it this year because no one pays attention to what smaller countries say anyway. Correa opted to stay home deal with problems affecting his country.

President Banda making her UN General Assembly speech

President Banda making her UN General Assembly speech

 

At the Annual General Assembly, Joyce Banda assured the Assembly, well, those that were present and bothered to listen, that Malawi will meet only four of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), come the 2015 deadline. She assured the Assembly that since her ascendancy to power “Malawi is registering a strong economic recovery”. She urged the Assembly to ensure that the post-2015 MDGs agenda target rural areas where the most vulnerable people dwell. Pro-poor, grassroots has become President Banda’s favourite punch line. In this case, she did well to emphasise it because it localised the MDGs’ one-size-fits-all approach, which overlooks country specific problems.

Unfortunately, for President Banda, MDGs in its current format or its post-2015 design will not only fail in Malawi because of poor targeting or design; they will fail because of poor governance, corruption, impunity and lack of political will. Impunity and greed derailed Mutharika’s first term impressive economic performed. Joyce Banda is repeating the same thing by staying abroad; pretending all is well when her government is marred in serious corruption and more people are going hungry. Her government says there is no power vacuum in her presence, of course, there is not but President Banda must take lead, she must treat with these crises with seriousness it deserves.

Joyce Banda’s urge at the Assembly to ask the donor community to honour their financial pledges in order for developing countries to meet the MDGs did not come as a surprise. We are always looking for more funding instead of organising our affairs. The lesson is that prior to the donor aid free three years ago, when Bingu wa Mutharika turned autocratic, Malawian government was on track to meet at least six of the eight MDGs, now we are down to four – bad governance explains this, not poor funding. We all know that it is because Mutharika decided to put self-interest ahead of national interest that the economy derailed during his second term. His relentless effort to have his young brother succeeding him made him paranoid and death to voices of reason. Why won’t President Banda hear the pin-drop and do things different?

Malawi could meet MDGs and get kudos form the ‘international community’ but with persistent corruption fostered by lax leadership and impunity, the achievements of MDGs would not be sustained. For too long leaders in Malawi have ruled with total impunity, leaders say and do things just because they can, not because it is in the interest of Malawi and its people. President Banda was quick to say that she knew orchestrators of Mr Mphwiyo’s shooting; next, she was on the plane UN General Assembly leaving everyone guessing. President Banda knew she could get away with it, impunity. Now she wants everyone to stop speculating on the issue because apparently her government believes in the rule of law? Who started the speculations?

Since her ascendancy to power, President Banda has used every opportunity to reach out to the ‘international community’, and the world has well and truly responded an warm up to her. Yet, even they must slowly be waking up to the fact that MDGs or any sustainable development cannot be achieved where impunity and corruption is order of the day – such is current Malawi.

  • NOTE: Jimmy Kainja will be writing a weekly column on Nyasa Times, please make sure you check it every Wednesday.
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