A little blue lie: Muckracker on Malawi govt spokesman

“The lie  can be maintained  only for such time  as the State can shield the people from the political, economic  and/or military consequences  of the lie” Paul Joseph Goebbels

Next time Kondwani Nankhumwa accompanies his boss on a foreign junket I recommend he seeks out a good bookshop and search for one Joseph Goebbels, the legendary Nazi Germany Minister of Propaganda, to perfect his lying skills.

Look, I do not think there is anybody in the muckraking community who has not been caught in a situation where they had to tell a convenient lie. Some lies are innocent but, of course, most are destructive.

Nankhuma: Hails MPC
Nankhuma: Hails MPC

For example, it is difficult to convince a six-year-old on why your neighbour is driving a posh Merc while you are making do with a push-bike. It will be an uphill task to convince him your earning power, your neighbour’s and yours, is different. Your son will be ok with a blue lie that your neighbour is a weakling; he cannot ride a bike! (Be mindful, though, he might repeat the same to your neighbour’s son!)

Of course, like I said, most lies are destructive they can lead to innocent people losing jobs, loved ones, even lives.

It is conventional wisdom nonetheless that a good liar must have a sharp and agile memory. The next lie must never contradict the first.

Lying, in short, is an art of sorts.

But, in rare cases, lying comes with the territory. Take, for instance, Nankhumwa, him whose day job is to officially lie. The Information Minister is in the unenviable, albeit adequately compensated for, situation that he has to lie often in order to spruce up the often battered image of government.

Take, for example, the little lie about his boss’ village of advisors. When the President realised he could not afford to break his campaign promise of maintaining a lean Cabinet of 20, the good ol’ Prof. soon discovered he had a busload of pretenders he needed to appease for the various roles they purportedly performed to make him acquire his rather unnecessarily long honorific title “His Excellency the State President of the Republic of Malawi Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika”.

He could not throw them under the bus, as it were; that could have been not only ungrateful but political suicide as well. So he had to find them a seat on his gravy-train.

When the figure swore and people started making uncomfortable noises via the usual suspects – the media – that the legion of advisors had cancelled any savings that might have accrued from the lean Cabinet, the administration had to spin itself out of the logjam.

So Nankhumwa was called to duty. He did not only whittle down the figure to an innocent-sounding seven; he went ahead to publish perks of these lucky few – an unconventional deed in a conservative country where most husbands still hide their salaries from their housewives.

Nankhumwa conveniently forgot to detail the hidden allowances when these folks are sent on errands “as assigned from time to time” like accompanying the President overseas where their task is only to laugh heartily at the boss’ dry jokes.

The government spokesman also conveniently forgot to list down a number of ‘super’ advisors, like the President’s own sister-in-law, who were given plum jobs as coordinators of this or directors of that. If truth be told, as long as these folks were appointed from the blue and did not go up one rung after another on the civil service ladder, they are no more than special advisors.

And then poor Kondwani was called to duty again when the naughty media called Peter his bluff recently. You may recall that the old man, desperately trying to prove that his ‘business unusual’ mode of governing, announced via his trusty deputy that ministers and government officials will no longer be following him everywhere like dogs do with bitches during the mating season unless the function directly concerns their line of duty.

But come the recent Mzuzu University graduation ceremony half the Cabinet was there!

Noting that his boss has been caught pants down, poor Kondwani had to quickly think of something. All ministers who invaded Mzuzu, the good government spokesman – dry-eyed – said, paid their way to the North.

C’mon, my good friend Kondwani, we know part of your ToRs is to lie on behalf of government but you have to lie cleverly. Look, were the same ministers, who were needlessly ready and willing to dig deep in their private pockets just to be near the boss where their presence was not even needed, not in the papers the other day asking for an obscene salary hike? The least one would expect from such supposedly broke types is to spend needlessly.

That notwithstanding, the same Goebbels I have quoted above stated: “It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent; its task is to lead to success.”

Fine, the poor minister’s lie was not exactly intelligent but it certainly did not even succeed in convincing us.

Look, the dozen ministers that trekked to Mzuzu used their gas-guzzling official vehicles and drivers, plus security to boot. The equipment and personnel itself is a cost to the tax payer, never mind the blue lie that the idle ministers paid all staff allowances from their own pockets.

Ok, let us give Nankhumwa the benefit of the doubt. But even if he is telling the truth that they picked the tab for their needless presence in Mzuzu, is the minister telling us that, because this was a private trip of sorts – as he would like us to believe, he and his colleagues did not use their 1,000-litre monthly allocation? How do we audit that for the monthly fuel allocation must be loaded in debt cards or given out to them as hard cash?

Besides, nine of the ten ministers, drivers and their security detail had no business in Mzuzu. What happened to their load of work at Capital Hill that Friday, when the graduation ceremony took place, being a working day? How are we, the tax payers – who are tantalised as these folks’ bosses – going to recoup those lost man-hours?

Or, perhaps, Nankhumwa is confirming that these folks do not exactly have any work to do at all at Capital l Hill?

I know poor Kondwani’s job is tough and tricky – although not exactly thankless. But he must lie to us so sweetly that we should end up feeling good about it.

Otherwise it is an insult to our collective intelligence to blatantly lie to us that the idle ministers who invaded Mzuzu paid their way.

Tell us another lie, a better one this time.

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