Editorial: Bingu’s K61bn wealth should make Malawians worried

In a country where the majority of the population still lives below the poverty line of about less than about K400 per day, the revelation that former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, died while he had a mega K61 billion wealth, some stashed in off shore accounts, should make all the 13 million Malawians deeply worried.

For starters, only a few years ago, this money was enough to bankroll Malawi’s total annual national budget.

The question, therefore, should be: what is it about our presidency that makes people acquire such obscene wealth when they ascend to the high office while the majority of our people are still being crushed under the yoke of debilitating poverty.

It is not a secret that Mutharika was nearly destitute as soon as he was fired as secretary general of Comesa in the late 1990s.

Indeed stories are told that he was operating a down-the-mill minibus business in Lilongwe before former president Bakili Muluzi pulled him out of the dungeon and gave him the lifeline when he appointed him deputy Reserve Bank governor.exposed

Muluzi then accelerated Mutharika’s meteoric rise through the ranks, appointing him Economic Planning Minister before thrusting him as UDF 2004 presidential candidate and the rest, as they say, is history.

But tellingly, upon ascending to the presidency that time, Mutharika put his wealth at K150 million and, shockingly, eight down the line, he dies a billionaire.

The critical questions are: How did he acquire this wealth? Was everything above board? Or were Malawians screwed along the way for Mutharika to swim in this massive fortune? More crucially, we reiterate, what is it about our presidency that can make someone on the verge of financial collapse and ruin, into an instant billionaire?

The framers of our Constitution had mulled all these questions and dutifully put the declaration of assets provision in the supreme law of the land but only for selfish motives to get in the way that successive governments since 1994 have conveniently run away from drafting an enabling bill to punish those that do not comply with it and check suspicious wealth dubiously acquired by those who hold public office as this present case shows.

And so today it is possible for a public official to claim some rights and put up some arguments against the Declaration of Assets law on advice from some fancy lawyers.

And tragically, the present Head of State Joyce Banda has fallen into the same trap and is not being exemplary in this regard as she has refused to declare her assets, arguing she already did so when she became Vice President in 2009.

And, yes she has said she sought advice from her lawyers.

But any well- meaning Malawian should spend sleepless nights and ask themselves that question again: what is there to our presidency and politics in general that transform our leaders overnight from paupers to mega rich barons whose net wealth can fund a national budget in a country where most of our people cannot afford even a bar of Maluwa soap and some go to sleep on an empty stomach because they can’t buy a bag of maize?

This self-enrichment that our politicians shamelessly engage in has to stop one way or the other. The alternative is that Malawi will remain poor while leaders get rich at people’s expense.

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