“Pay attention you stupid people, who have eyes, but cannot see, and have ears, but cannot hear… Just as hunter fills a cage with birds, they have filled their houses with loot, that is why they’re powerful and rich, why they’re fat and well fed. There is no limit to their evil deeds. They do not give orphans their rights or show justice to the oppressed.” Jeremiah 5 v 21-31
The Capital Hill looting, well known as Cashgate has clearly become a case about individuals, mostly political players; no longer a national disaster it is. Let us discount the fact that Malawi is a country always on the brink of some crisis, the biggest story in the past week was donor’s freezing of annual budget support, not the arrest of Ralph Kasambara. Neither was it fugitives, Pika Manondo and Osward Lutepo handing themselves in to the police after some weeks on the run. The fact that the biggest story continues to play a second fiddle to the Cashgate running story that could take years to be resolved is a good example of our twisted priorities.
Does anyone know what the government intends to do to plug the gapping hole on 2013/14 national budget, which the aid freeze has caused? Will the government revise the budget or they will sit and hope the donors who provided up 40% of the budget will soften their positions? Is this not the discussion we currently need rather than only occupy ourselves with gossip on what Manondo and Lutepo discussed during their alleged encounter in jail? Malawians are very good finger-pointing and personalised politics yet always reluctant to hold the power to account and instil some integrity into our shambolic public institutions. We are a sad lot.
The major culprit here is the materialistic and self-loathing culture we have natured, as a nation. A huge majority of Malawians are preoccupied with nothing but pursuit of personal riches. Folks are determined to get those riches by any means necessary – those who can run are fine, those who cannot run are doomed. Getting rich is no longer means to an end – having necessities in life. Becoming rich is now an end itself. The problem is that Malawi is not a producing country; it is a consumer state. Now where are folks supposed to get these desired riches if not stealing from ourselves?
A minority class of wealth Malawians, envied by the majority of population that leave from hand to mouth has emerged in the last decade or also. This is why Cashgate is a spectacle that all Malawians are keenly watching, they want see who among flashy uptown people are going to be implicated in this sickening public embezzlement. This is not because most Malawians really care about recovering the lost public money, there should have been more public anger if this was the case; it is because most folks are eager to see yesterday’s kings becoming prisoners. The political establishment has taken advantage of this myopic view. That is why the country is occupied with Cashgate arrest ignoring the aim freeze, deteriorating hospital conditions, rising inflation etc.
That is the ugly face of kleptocracies, which is what Malawi has become; a republic ruled by the rich and for the rich. The rest must spectate and the media must be a good umpire and observe the rules; it should not be allowed to make the ruling elite uncomfortable. The acrimonious press conference Joyce Banda conducted after her 3 weeks stay in United States is a perfect case. Journalists felt the heat for asking questions that challenged kleptocrats. This is how kleptocracies work; setting the pace and acceptable standards for the ruled, anything outside that framework must be nullified.
Yet, we cannot afford to submit to such way of doing things and ignore the voice of reason inside all of us. Sorting out this mess will take a collective effort of all well meaning Malawians; the country is never short of patriots. Other countries have also had to deal with recycled politicians and kleptocracies, far much worse than Malawi. After years of misrule and dictatorships, Guatemala, a Central American country finally decided to ban relatives of a president from standing for office.
According to The Economist magazine, relatives is defined in Guatemalan constitution as someone who falls within the fourth grade of one’s own blood relatives, up to and including cousins – and the second grade of one’s in-laws (up to grandparents and grandchildren).
For a start, I cannot see Malawi parliament passing this law even if it was drafted, it is a threat to whole the political establishment. Just as access to information bill that MPs have refused to even debate for over a decade. Recall provision, which empowered people to remove underperforming MPs, was the first law to be repealed if my memory saves me right. It threatened the political establishment.
Still we must demand accountability from our leadership and in the light of Cashgate scandal, the line of thinking that I agree with is to put a law in place that should stop anyone who have been involved or benefited from public looting and/ or has any criminal convictions from standing for public office.
This should also be the case for any political party involved in any form of corruption or benefiting from theft of corrupt practises; they must be disbanded and deregistered. I know our constitution allow previous offenders to run for public office after 7 years. This must change. I believe it was a serious oversight by drafters of the law. Do they not say a leopard never change its spots?
- Note: Jimmy Kainja writes a weekly column on Nyasa Times, please make sure you check it every Wednesday.