Britain to help Mutharika in Cashgate crackdown, reforms

British High Commissioner to Malawi, Michael Nevin, has said the UK government looks forward to working with new Malawi President Prof. Peter Mutharika and his government in ensuring public sector reforms and crackdown on Cashgate corruption scandal where billions were looted at Capital Hill.

The previous DPP government of Bingu wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother, expelled British envoy Fergus Cochrane-Dyet after he allegedly reported that Bingu had developed intolerant and despotic tendencies.

Nevin during Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday celebrations held at the British official residence in Lilongwe said he has been asked, given recent regrettable history between the British government and the former DPP administration, how relations will be between Lilongwe and London.

Nevin: The UK government looks forward to working with President Mutharika and his government on our shared goals of strengthening Malawi's democracy
Nevin: The UK government looks forward to working with President Mutharika and his government on our shared goals of strengthening Malawi’s democracy

“I can say that we have a good relationship with the President and look forward to working with his government,” said the diplomat.

The British High Commissioner said there will be a particular interest in how the new DPP administration demonstrates its commitments to democratic values and practice, human rights, good governance and to combating corruption and impunity.

“That is perhaps to be expected given the concerns that existed in the latter half of the former DPP administration,” said Nevin.

The UK diplomat pointed out that President Mutharika is “well attuned” to the concerns and welcomed his inauguration speech when he said his government is determined to set an inclusive path for the country, based on fairness, tolerance, respect, consultation, integrity, and honesty.

“We strongly support his priority identified in that speech of ensuring true independence for the police, ACB, [Anti-Corruption Bureau] the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and other law and security agencies, and the commitment to ensure they are adequately resourced to do their job more effectively.

“And we welcome the clear statement of intent by the President in ‘drawing a red line against corruption and theft of public funds’. We are united on that going forward and will support efforts to continue investigations into Cashgate and other cases while the government takes urgently needed measures to strengthen its public financial management systems,” said Nevin.

Britain said it will encourage “action” in a number of other priority areas, saying public sector reform is top of the list.

“A strong and efficient public service will be critical if the Government is to deliver its ambitious agenda for Malawi. A fundamental review seems necessary given that the public service has long been central to the country’s development.”

He said other policy areas could also benefit from radical thinking: how to create a health system that delivers even basic needs, with some tough decisions ahead on how best that is done and who should do it; how to develop an education system that retains pupils, invests in teachers, and supports both more and better quality secondary education, with a strong emphasis on keeping girls in school.

The radical thinking, he added, should work on how to promote long-term food security, with a vision much broader than Farm Input Subsidy Program ( FISP), and which supports an export strategy focused on agri-produce; and a private sector supported and not hindered to deliver growth – without a free and supported private sector, there is little prospect of achieving Malawi’s ambitions.

“Overarching all of this is maintenance of a sound macro-economic policy, which provides a measure of confidence and continuity to citizens and investors alike. That will need to be supported by fiscal discipline, within the context of a tight budget. The new government may have to stagger its ambitious plans through strict prioritisation to ensure it stays within budget,” said Nevin.

The Bitish envoy said “delivery” will be key to the success of Mutharika government.

“Malawi can no longer afford to have good policies but not implement them. The people need to see action; and we need to see action to be able to respond with support,” he said.

On development aid, Nevin tipped government, saying donors and the private sector are more likely to invest in countries where there is a greater prospect of success and value for money.

“But it needs the leadership of a country to take action, to demonstrate impact and to deliver that success. So the message to any new government coming in, of whatever colour, was always going to be -you deliver first, and we will respond to support you”.

Commenting on the May 20 chaotic elections, Nevin picked on positive aspects.

“This electoral process was one of the most transparent in Malawi’s history; the Malawi people were able to vote freely; the counting of votes was conducted openly with much oversight by the widespread deployment of observers and monitors; and this election witnessed the lowest number of null and void ballots in Malawi electoral history,” he said.

He pointed out that the “infamous – but non-hacked – computer system” actually added to the safeguards by highlighting instances where figures did not add up, allowing further investigation.

“Each polling centre’s returns were scrutinised, and political parties had the opportunity to review the tally sheets,” he said.

Goodall Gondwe, who represented government at te function, said under the new DPP administration, there will be total adherence to constitutionalism and rule of law.

Mutharika, who takes power in one of the world’s poorest countries where 40% of the budget comes from aid, said the donor nations were “welcome to stay here”.

Foreign policy would be based on what is best for Malawi, he said disclosing that his government will look for “new friends” in countries such as China and Russia.

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