Malawi columnist on cash-gate: If we want, we shall

I have had several discussions over the last two weeks in reaction to my optimism over cashgate. Some people have gone as far as describing me as gullible but that can only make sense if I am understood as believing in this government’s commitment to fighting corruption. I must put it on record that my optimism is not premised on government’s willingness, or lack thereof, to tackle the vice that is before us.

For me, the situation as I see it is out of government’s control. I do not dispute reports that President Joyce Banda may have at some point in the last few months started to tackle this problem, but once an attempt was made on the life of budget director Paul Mphwiyo and stacks of cash were being found at the most unlikely of places, the matter went out of government’s hands. It is the public, including the donors, running the show now.

So, my belief that this vice will be fought and somehow defeated is borne out of my belief in the people who are now in control. If we fail again, therefore, I will not blame government because I do not believe in it in the first place. If ever the much touted power to the people had the biggest chance to manifest itself, this is the moment because those in authority are at their most vulnerable.

Protesters in Lilongwe on October 10, 2013, hold placards wishing Paul Mphwiyo a quick recovery (Photo- Amos Gumulira, AFP)
Protesters in Lilongwe on October 10, 2013, hold placards wishing Paul Mphwiyo a quick recovery (Photo- Amos Gumulira, AFP)

President Banda may be able to put out a brave face in public but I can bet she is under immense pressure and you get the sense that she has so many dilemmas to contend with. That is very easy to tell from some of her statements and actions. There is also a sense of desperation on her part as seen in her political manoeuvres. Anyone who believes that Gwanda Chakuamba still has something to offer by way of national contribution must be really desperate.

Let us face it, there was a time when Chakuamba was a political force, controlling the Shire Valley and with reasonable following in the Northern Region and some parts in the Centre, but since his last presidential bid in 2004, the man’s fortunes have been on a steady steep decline and the next big headline he will make will not be about his new contribution to the country’s progress.

But I have digressed. Most people who have questioned my optimism have made two valid points. The first is that the country has seen many arrests of people on several cases before but nothing has come out of them because they have never been prosecuted or have somehow died a natural death. I agree and I made a similar point to some government apologist who was upbeat over the arrests that we have seen.

My response to that is that we have had that situation because we, the public, have allowed it. Authorities know, as Atcheya often reminded us, that Malawians forget easily and if they buy some time we shall all forget and start talking about other things. In that regard, therefore, if we agree that we want some real and tangible action on this matter, it will happen whether those in power want it or not.

It has been rightly pointed out to me that the current government may want to play games by taking its time until the elections when they can continue to dither until we forget and move on. I would like to believe that if they do that, Malawians need to respond to that gamesmanship by voting them out in May. That may send a powerful message for whoever takes over to do something about it once they take the reins.

The other cause for pessimism is the fact that indications from the rumour mill are that cashgate may have involved some prominent people very close to the seat of power in various ways and it is inconceivable that there can be any movement on trying to take culprits to book. Again, I would like to believe that there are people out there set to become national heroes who will see to it that they frustrate any efforts to frustrate progress.

I mentioned two weeks ago that the fact that this is happening six months to the tripartite elections makes it difficult for government to play whatever games it may want. Cashgate will hopefully determine significantly the person to make it to Sanjika or Kamuzu Palace and government knows that token arrests that come to nothing will not help its case. Mind you, I am aware that I could be overrating the thinking in government.

A lot was made, especially on social media, of former Justice minister Ralph Kasambara’s revelation that President Banda would be among his witnesses in his attempted murder case. Those who were ecstatic saw a lot of wit, but I only detected blackmail at best, desperation at worst. Either way, I was even more convinced that it will be difficult to stop the wheels of justice this time.

And I have not yet discussed the donor dimension yet. The fact that there are foreigners involved in the current investigations gives me hope that nothing will be doctored and all will be revealed. Government will, therefore, have no choice but account for its actions on the findings or risk losing the goodwill from both within and outside. That is why I believe we shall gain something from all this madness not because of government but despite of government.

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