Malawi: Accountability; the traction for progress

Tidzakumana pamtengo wakachere; pothera nkhani – Lucius Banda

 By all accounts, Mrs. Joyce Banda has hit the ground running as President of the Republic of Malawi following the sudden death of former President, dictator Bingu wa Mutharika, on April 5th., 2012. Media reports are replete with accounts of how she is busy repairing relations with multilateral and bilateral donors, development partners and neighbouring countries. She has fast-tracked the reopening of diplomatic relations with crucial ally Great Britain, ruined by the impudence and hubris of Mutharika; and is working diplomatic overtime to regain cordiality with neighbouring Mozambique — relations with which were sullied by Mutharika’s boorish attitude towards the Moz’s leaders and his gate-crashing zeal to open a riparian outlet to the sea for Malawi through their territory without the necessary environmental, technical and economic feasibility studies which they insisted on.

In between diplomatic telephone calls and needed foreign visits, President Banda has also found time to cobble together a cabinet that has all the fingerprints of a Government of National Unity (GNU). In addition, she has already replaced some notorious, high ranking Mutharika left-overs. The cantankerous minister of information Patricia Kaliati, for example, is thankfully no longer in cabinet. The annoyingly garrulous, dishonest opportunist Hetherwick Ntaba has mercifulluy disappeared frm TV screens and radio waves. The ruthless Peter Mukhito has been repaced by Lott Dzonzi as Chief of Police; and the semi-educated Director General of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Bright Malopa, has been shown the door in favour of Benson Tembo, a career broadcaster. Rumours suggest that the former Chief of Intelligence, Bintony Kuntsaira, will similarly be replaced by a professional and ethical person, rather than the political operative that Kuntsaira is.

President Joyce Banda: Forgiveness need not include the absence of accountability

Legislative Reform

President Banda opened a new sitting of Parliament last Friday. Taking a hint from her speech, let’s hope that Parliament will, during this sitting, repeal or amend all the laws that were passed by the Bingu dictatorship that are repugnant to the Constitution. Let Parliament repeal the law that changed our beautiful and meaningful heritage flag to an esthetically challenged one that depicts an unrealistic portrayal of the country. Let Parliament reverse such perverse laws as the injunctions law; the Police law; Section 46 of the penal code regarding ministerial power to ban publications; as well as sections 137A and 153 – 156 concerning ‘unnatural acts’ and ‘indecent practices’. Let it also get rid of all other laws whose provisions go against the grain of our democratic Constitution. We still have laws on the books left over from colonial rule and the Kamuzu Banda dictatorship, for example, which Mutharika used to oppress Malawians with. These include laws on so-called sedition and others purpotedly protecting national symbols and emblems including the President — which Mutharika used to hit back at those he perceived as insulting him. Except that he considered any criticism as an insult! These laws, in their oppressive form, need to be changed or disappear once and for all. As long as they are on the books in their current form, Malawians will remain vulnerable to any future dictator’s proclivity to abuse them for his/her own selfish political ends as Mutharika did.

Parliament should also amend the relevant acts so that no President will in future interefere with academic freedom at public institutions of higher learning as Mutharika did at the University of Malawi. Let Parliament reform the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation to make it truly a public broadcaster reflecting the political, cultural and demographic diversity of Malawi, rather than a state broadcaster, which it has been under dictator Mutharika, reflecting the views of his regime and spreading hate against those holding contrary views.

MBC, Police, Immigration and ACB Bosses

Bright Malopa was on Zodiak Radio soon after the non-renewal of his employment contract at MBC. He defended his atrocities by saying he had only been following orders when he abused MBC to brew hatred among Malawians and to deprive the late dictator’s perceived political opponents access. MBC has been abused before, but never to the extent that Malopa did. He single-handedly ruined the careers and reputations of many Malawians and fomented much fear and loathing. Indeed the then Vice President, now President Joyce Banda, herself did not escape Malopa’s virulent attacks after she broke ranks with the dictator and was driven out of the ruling DPP. Malopa involved himself directly in odious broadcasting and connived to use the taxpayer funded broadcaster the way one radio station was used in Kigali to fan the flames of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He introduced programming such as Makiyolobasi andMizwanya, and used them in the service of Mutharika’s tyranny against the dictator’s opponents.

Peter Mukhito, similarly, suggested in an interview on Capital Radio a few days after being relieved of his duties as Inspector General of Police, that all he did under the dictator was to follow his directives. In the interview, Mukhito said nothing about his role in the recent arbitrary (but clearly politically motivated) arrests of John Kapito, Ralph Kasambara and Atupele Muluzi – quite apart from his police’s irregular behaviour following the murder of Robert Chasowa. He had nothing to say about the arrest a few months ago of Rev. Nyondo or about the 20 or so Malawians his officers butchered on July 20 – 21st., 2011 who were demontrating against Mutharika’s oppression and economic mismanagement. Mukhito was mute on the arrest on May 13, 2008, of Kennedy Makwangwala, John Chikakwiya, Joseph Aironi, Matthews Masoapyola and Joseph Chimbayo and, later, of Bakili Muluzi, Brig. Marcel Chirwa, Brig. Cosgrove Mituka, and Brig Juvenalis Mtende. They were subsequently charged with Treason, a case which has gone nowhere. Mukhito’s predecessor as Police Chief, Oliver Kumbambe, too, ought to explain how Cassim Chilumpha, then Vice President of the Republic of Malawi, was arrested on 28th April, 2006, and charged with Treason. This case, too, has since stagnated in the courts.

At Immigration, Elvis Thodi saw fit to deport from Malawi a certain Jumani Kamuzu Banda. J.K. Banda is a Malawian born in Malawi to Malawian parents. The moment he started to make political noises, particularly after he went to Mutharika’s Area 47 home and ranted about challenging him for the Presidency, J.K Banda was deported to Sweden where he had grown up after leaving Malawi as a child. But he is a Malawian, so why deport him? In this regard, Parliament might, for once, consider granting Malawians dual citizenship. It’s about time! Thodi also needs to explain how some business magnates connected to Mutharika, who were neither government ministers nor diplomats, nevertheless ended up with diplomatic passports.

The ACB Director, too, needs to explain why high profile victims of his department were mostly from the opposition. Was there no corruption on the government side? The new government should prosecute those who pillaged government property under the Mutharika dictatorship with impunity — the fraudulent acquisition of publicly owned houses, for example. According to the Daily Times, Arthur-Peter Mutharika paid only K7,295,255.75, half the market value, to personally acquire a Nyambadwe government house formally evaluated at K14,800,000.00. Combined with similar fraudulent purchases by other DPP officials, we lost a total of K105,000,000.00 in the scam (seehttp://www.bnltimes.com/national/42-all/825-minister-comments-on-mhc-scam-.html). These properties had not been advertised to allow fair competition. Bingu Mutharika himself and his wife were implicated (seehttp://www.malawidemocrat.com/politics/malawi-president-first-lady-implicated-in-%E2%80%98housing-scam%E2%80%99/). Whistleblowers were sacked or scapegoated (see  http://www.mwnation.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18790:govt-fires-mhc-board-chair&catid=1:national-news&Itemid=3). What does the ACB Director have to say about these and many other scandals involving high profile members of the Mutharika oligarchy which his agency chose not to investigate? Why did he allow himself and his office to be used for partisan purposes? Alex Nampota is a lawyer. He knows the Constitution, no?

Goodall Gondwe and ‘The Midnight 6’

The contents of Mr. Goodall Gondwe’s interview with Mr. Brian Banda on Capital Radio’s Straight Talk program on May 3rd, 2012, were surprising considering Mr. Gondwe’s usual good sense. In it, Mr. Gondwe pretended that a cabinet meeting immediately following the dictator’s death endeavoured only to seek a legal opinion on the eligibility of Mrs. Banda to succeed to the Presidency after Mutharika’s death. Mr. Gondwe served in powerful cabinet positions under the late dictator who, himself, left the party on whose political cranes the late dictator was hoisted to the Presidency. History does not record Mr. Gondwe as seeking a legal opinion in 2005 on whether President Bingu Mutharika could continue in office having formed a party different from the one which hoisted him into office. It is safe to assume that Mr. Gondwe correctly surmised in 2005 that Mr. Mutharika’s action did not affect his constitutional position as President of the Republic of Malawi. It is therefore disingenuous of Mr. Gondwe to claim that he needed a legal opinion to inform him that being driven out of the ruling party as she was; and her subsequent forming of her own party as she did, affected Mrs. Banda’s constitutional position as Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and therefore as successor to the Presidency.

Mr. Gondwe should immediately do what other, less well-regarded ministers in his position have also done: he should apologize and seek the unfailing forgiveness of the Malawian people and of the current President. Mr. Henry Mussa, for example, had the good sense to apologise profusely in his own interview on the same issue when he spoke on the Tiuzeni Zoona program on Zodiak Radio on April 22nd. Trying to play smart with this issue, as Mr. Gondwe seemed to be doing in the Straight Talk interview, insults the intelligence of the very people whose forbearance he and the rest of the so-called ‘Midnight 6’ need at this juncture.

The Ken Lipenga Disaster

As minister when you seriously mislead the President, Parliament or the public – whether deliberately or by incompetence, or indeed by the incompetence or lies of those working in your department — there is only one honourable thing to do: resign or risk being fired. It’s called ministerial responsibility. This is more so in a situation where the lie is of such magnitude as has been revealed in the Ken Lipenga-Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) issue. This was a whole national budget update presented to the whole House of Parliament, but based on falsehoods! It doesn’t get any more serious than that. A failure by the minister to resign or to be fired in such circumstances sends the signal that the minister is unaccountable; which is odious to the public interest. Ministerial responsibility is important to motivate ministers to closely scrutinize activities within their departments. The reverse of ministerial responsibility is that civil servants are not supposed to take credit for the successes of their department, allowing the government of the day, including the minister of the day, to claim the credit. But the minister is supposed to pay the political price for departmental bungling. One cannot have it both ways.

Ken Lipenga, moreover, remains a point man, as sitting minister of finance, in Malawi’s continuing negotiations with the IMF, World Bank and bilateral donors. His credibility as finance minister and chief negotiator on financial matters on behalf of Malawi is in tatters and untenable following revelations that the MRA, under him, cooked up budget figures the same way we cook Kalongonda. As long as he is the point man for Malawi in such negotiations, Malawi herself lacks credibility. No foreign donor, financial aid partner, nor investor wants to deal with someone under whose watch financial figures were cooked like Kalongonda. Ken Lipanga is a great, likeable guy. But as finance minister he has become nothing short of a walking disaster. Indeed, to save the brand-new President from having to fire him, Ken Lipenga needs to resign almost as a coutesy to the President. Lipenga has enough intelligence, political experience and international exposure to understand that he is now a political albatross around the President’s neck. This President does not need this dead weight. Lipenga has to go.

Accountability; the Traction for Progress

The job of overcoming the lingering effects of the evils of late dictator Mutharika is only starting. President Banda needs to start bringing to account those who used their government jobs to commit criminal acts and constitutional violations — particularly those that deprived Malawians of their basic rights, or committed acts of corruption. In addition, Mrs. Banda has a responsibility to right Mutharika’s legislative and policy wrongs. This is how real progress on governance will start and progress. Failure to do this, however, will send a message to future oppressors and their surrogates that abusing Malawians is a sport without negative consequences to themselves.

‘I was just following orders’ is no defence. There are no orders that are superior to Constitutional or legal dictates. To the extent that these officers followed unlawful orders as they say they did, they must stand accountable for their part of the blame. If they rose to such prominent positions, one would hope they took a bit of time to read the Constitution and the laws establishing and regulating their respective departments. Until and unless high ranking public officers know that our constitutional values and legal dictates are superior to capricious, political presidential orders; until and unless the heads of our public institutions understand that they are also advisors to the President, not just order-takers; until and unless they realize that the law is supreme and those who forget this lesson are held accountable, Malawi will not make any significant gains in governance and Malawians will remain vulnerable to the political expediencies and whims of future dictators.

Let those who have abused our public and state institutions to promote dictatorship, partisanship, persecution and hatred  – and thus abused their public positions of trust – be made accountable for their actions and, where appropriate, be prosecuted to the full extent that the law allows. Mrs. Banda has talked about forgiveness. But forgiveness need not include the absence of accountability. We can forgive and yet still make sure wrongdoers go through the appropriate judicial processes. Indeed this is a requisite part of the forgiving process and of their rehabilitation into legitimate membership in society. Forgiveness is spiritual. Let justice be temporal. Let nobody misunderstand forgiveness to mean a lack of accountability. Indeed it is accountability that we need to truly move forward. Otherwise, we are spinning our wheels in the mud.

*Ambuje Che Tom Likambale is a Malawian writer and political commentator based in Canada

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