Editorial: President Banda, abolish corruption – revive,enact Declaration of Assets bill!

There are several steps involved in any effort to effectively solve a problem. The steps come in various ways depending on the context, complexity and nature of the problem.

But whatever the matrix, and whatever methodology a problem-solving undertaking takes, and never mind the degree of the complexity; the first step is always the same. And this is: problem identification.

At the Nyasa Times, we have noted that President Mrs Joyce Banda has got past this first step. According to her recent speeches, she has consulted and been reliably informed by technocrats that Malawi faces a huge challenge.

Mincing no words, she told the country that: “Our economy is in a total mess.”

President Banda

Now, tradition in Malawi is that when a leader states the obvious like this, we are quick to give a resounding applause for “wisdom, pragmatism“ and what have you, and stop there.

Sadly, this tendency has gotten Malawi and Malawians nowhere. Therefore, we should now unlearn this and start doing things differently; if we want to get a different result out of the President Joyce Banda presidency and government.

And this is why at the Nyasa Times, our main focus will be on the environment and factors surrounding the problem-solving. To be more precise we will focus on: stakeholder consultations, balancing conflicting and often contrary interests and most importantly, ensuring that the voiceless and the marginalised do not – again – get a raw deal as the rich, the advantaged, the connected, and public office bearers get richer.

Before we continue, kindly permit us to go back to the basics. Having defined the problem, the State President went further and said that Malawi needs no less than US$1billion (about K170 billion) to put the economy back on track.

In this regard, our role with respect to this “US$1 billion dream” or whatever of it actually materialises, is to see to it that it benefits the poor and the marginalised, who for far too long, have always been forgotten in Malawi whenever resources are available.

Malawi, from way back in 1964, has never lacked friends. These friends, over the years, have been injecting a lot of funds into Malawi to supplement our own locally generated resources. Fifty years on, there is no visible dent on the poverty that affects the majority of the people. The key and operative word here is “the majority.”

Why has this been the case?

It is because throughout our history, a minority has always corruptly, unfairly and undeservedly benefitted at the expense of the poor majority. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda and people surrounding him amassed fortunes during Malawi Congress Party’s 30 year rule, while the poor remained poor.

In 1994 Bakili Muluzi and his associates came in. They accumulated unexplainable wealth during the United Democratic Front’s (UDF) decade, while the poor got poorer. Some from the UDF government, for their efforts, have since “graduated” from reformatory establishments, while others are either frequent visitors to or trying – by hook or crook – to avoid courts to answer for alleged embezzlement of public funds.

As to what transpired in recent years during Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika’s tenure, leaks are slowly but surely coming into the public domain. From the look of things, there is an avalanche of shocking revelations in the offing, which we will today shelve for later.

Suffice to say that the result of whatever was transpiring on Dr Mutharika’s watch is the mess we are now wallowing in. What exactly are we driving at?

What we are saying is that unless something is done, and done differently this time around, the wished for US$1 billion (if it comes) will wind up in the wrong pockets, again.

These funds, intended to alleviate poverty of the majority of Malawians, will benefit only a greedy few. How? Through corruption – IF the constitutional provisions remain as toothless as they are, and if the legislation to combat corruption remains as weak as it currently is.

The Muluzi administration, infested as it was with corrupt characters, can validly claim credit for laying the foundation. It established the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and its attendant act. This was not perfect, but it was a good start all the same.

People expected more from the Mutharika administration – after all it came to power on a promise of “zero tolerance” on corruption. However, the Mutharika administration, despite being gifted a majority in parliament, failed to deal a death blow to corruption.

This administration failed to enact the draft Declaration of Assets bill – which was a bill of much more significance than “the bad laws” it bulldozed and signed into law.

Why? We submit, without fear of contradiction, that it is because right from the start that administration had underhand intentions that would have been thwarted if the bill was enacted into law. That bill would have been a show-stopper, to put it differently.

The inexplicable luxurious mansions and mausoleums we see today, the boxes and suitcases being shunted in secret; and the unprecedented looting of public resources would not have been possible if theDeclaration of Assets bill had been enacted into law.

Therefore without this law in place, requesting politicians and public officers to declare their assets upon assuming office, is an exercise in futility.

And this is why even when Malawians cried on July 20, 2011 that late President Mutharika should explain his wealth, they had neither a legal instrument nor basis to reinforce their demand. Had such a law been in place, Malawians would have succeeded to check the Mutharika administration and bring him to account.

It is only with such a law in place that obligations as provided for in sections 88 (3), 213 (1) and 213 (3) of the Constitution would be armed with the requisite teeth to bite crooks.

Coming closer home (to the poor and marginalised), it is only if we have such a law in place that interests of the majority who are poor can be safeguarded. It is a fact that because of greed and corruption, the marginalised in Malawi have been systematically unrepresented and they only feature into the equation when Malawi wants to beg.

In the light of all this, our position at the Nyasa Times is that if the Joyce Banda presidency and indeed the current crop of parliamentarians do not push and support that bill, and if any public officer – the president included – is unwilling to declare assets in a way that assures the public for whom the public trust is held, then it is only fair that such people should divorce themselves from the public trust and not seek or retain public office.

If this new government like the DPP government before it, drags its feet over this critical bill that has been gathering dust for some time now; we at the Nyasa Times, plus all Malawians of goodwill in the motherland and in the diaspora, can make only one promise:

We promise to make the necessary noise, lobbying at both local and international levels, to see to it that that this important bill has been passed, and passed without being rendered toothless, sooner than later.

Why have we taken this stance? It is because fighting corruption is the one single thing for which we do not need donor help on. What has been missing in this war is strong and consistent political will and leadership that genuinely cares for the poor and wants to alleviate their plight.

If President Mrs Joyce Banda is up to the task and wants to change lives of the poor for the better, without further delay:

  • She and her newly appointed (and re-appointed) government officials should immediately declare their assets;
  • Parliament should immediately pass the draft Declaration of Assets Bill without fearing that the new act would haunt them;
  • Tenders (especially for agricultural subsidies) should be awarded transparently and competitively; and
  • Vacancies that are incapacitating the Anti-Corruption Bureau should be filled forthwith.

Further procrastination in passing this critical bill and undertaking the four cardinal proposals listed above, especially during this critical period that Malawi is undergoing, will indicate the persistence of attitudes and perceptions that have led our country to this point.

And believe us when we say that if the bill continues to gather dust, President Joyce Banda and her Peoples Party-led government will again fail the children, and ordinary women and men in the village. She will have failed to walk the talk.

The bright side for the suffering majority is that the very same poor and marginalised will have the last laugh – at the polls or through heavenly intervention. No-one should say they had not been warned.

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