The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, which is currently facing criticisms from left, right and centre over its tribalism and nepotistic tendencies, has gone into overdrive, arresting people allegedly involved in the infamous looting of government money at Capital Hill popularly known as the ‘Cashgate Scandal’.
A horde of people, among them lawyers, top government and parastatal officials and former ruling People’s Party (PP) senior officials have been rounded up in a spectacle that looks real and bizarre at the same time.
One time (or is he still) main government witness and the man whose shooting arguably orchestrated a chain of events that led to the revelation of cashgate, Paul Mphwiyo, and his wife have also been pulled in for allegedly stealing close to MK2.1 billion.
As expected, opinion over the arrests has been varied. Some have applauded the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) for taking ‘bold action’ and beginning to ‘bite’. Others are taking the arrests with a pinch of salt whilst others have dismissed the arrests altogether. They consider them as a political gravy train that lacks depth, and will soon end in nothing. They are saying the latest parade will be forgotten just as quickly.
One would wish to go by the latter school of thought, however, as it seems it may come to pass. What has possibly fuelled pessimism and making the whole charade suspicious is one Kondwani Nankhumwa, the Minister of Information.
The man from the foot of the gigantic Mulanje Mountain was quoted in the media recently as saying anyone “who knows that he or she was involved in cashgate, whether they are outside the country, must come and hand themselves in without wasting government’s time”.
Wait a minute. Has the minister suddenly evolved into spokesperson of the Judiciary; or has he taken charge of PR functions at ACB? If the minister’s statement does not amount to interfering with the independence of the judiciary by the executive for its own agenda, then what is it?
For starters, this is one statement that points to the fact that the DPP government would like to use the cashgate to victimize perceived political enemies, particularly senior members of the PP.
When President Peter Mutharika took over the mantle of government, he promised to run a totally different government.
He said his approach would be ‘unusual’ not ‘as usual’. However, what has happened so far is a huge contradiction to Mutharika’s word of mouth. Barely a few months after taking the mantle of government, the DPP administration has run into some serious challenges of its own making, and is found to be dangerously wanting.
Mutharika and his cronies realize that their administration is just as vulnerable to the cycle of power and politics and that it has nothing new to offer. At this early stage (the earliest so far compared to all governments since the dawn multiparty politics), the Mutharika administration has already faced serious criticism over tribalism, nepotism and the general deterioration of the economic and governance order.
The new administration seems to favour members of Lhomwe tribe for plum government positions. The President is Lhomwe by tribal extraction. This scenario has prompted people from other regions to call for a federal system of government.
The President has also faced public rage for removing top public officers without following laid down procedures and wasting taxpayers’ money in the process on compensations. He also recently faced criticism for taking a larger-than-life entourage to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last month and staying in the most expensive hotel amidst a shrinking local economy and donor aid withdrawal.
Faced with such a forbidding scenario, the DPP government had only one thing to do—deflect attention from the onslaught and attempt to find its lost footing, somehow.
Cashgate is the one thing that is holding much sway in the minds of Malawians. It therefore had to be cashgate. Not that there is anything new in what Peter Mutharika and his DPP are doing on cashgate. In fact, it was expected that they would do what they are doing.
They are not doing anything unusual. The DPP had to somehow hammer some blows or victimize the immediate past administration. Cashgate is the easiest and the most readily available weapon.
Members of the previous PP administration and their sympathizers must therefore brace themselves to suffer a double-whammy of political persecution and cashgate brutalization. It is only a burrowing cycle of Malawian politics.
Much as there could be some cashgate culpability among those that are being arrested, it is an uncontestable fact that politics is also playing a bigger role in the whole melodrama.
The latest cashgate arrests could be creating or leaving behind political victims with very high stakes. The previous administration under Joyce Banda started the cashgate investigations.
It was during Joyce Banda’s reign that Mike Msungama (MCP member) was successfully convicted for cashgate. The prosecution of Theresa Namathanga Senzani (sister to Anna Kachikho, DPP Executive member), who started looting during the DPP reign whilst she was Director at the Ministry of Defense, started during the PP administration. She has since been convicted and sentenced.
The PP administration, under Joyce Banda, is also the one that commissioned British forensic auditors, Baker Tilly, to get to the bottom of cashgate.
Why is it then that the current administration is handling and painting cashgate, including the latest orgy of arrests as though it is an overhaul of all the wrongs committed by previous administration? Why is it that no emphasis is being placed on the MK92 billion fraud that took place under President Bingu wa Mutharika’s watch?
The DPP promised to release names of individuals that appear in the Baker Tilly audit report. It is now becoming ages and the names are still under wraps.
It smells double standards, therefore, when a government declares one thing and does completely another. It is what is known as ‘selective justice’ in this scenario.
It is clear the latest cashgate arrests are nothing more than just a political roadshow by the new DPP government. Much as it should be appreciated that the cashgate saga left an indelible dent on the country’s psyche, it is wrong to use it as a Trojan horse to deal with political opponents.
Actually the sketchy details of arrests that have so far been made don’t inspire any confidence that they can result in any conviction (everyone is innocent until proven guilty). Government must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that these people were indeed involved in cashgate, and that would require removing the veil of politics.
One Kondwani Nankhumwa is a careless government spokesperson and a threat to democracy and the rule of law. He must carefully study his prepared statements before he reads them to the public. If need be, he must censure and reprimand his spin-doctors when he feels uncomfortable with their creations lest he goes down in the Guinness Book of Records as the dullest Information Minister Malawi has ever had.
It would be a colossal error for the DPP administration to start behaving like a champion before the game is won. Nankhumwa and company ought to resist this urge.
*The author is a Malawian social, political and economic commentator. He writes in his own right.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :