Malawi: Of Joyce Banda’s billions, overnight millionaires, the good, the bad and the ugly

The good – the mother of all returns:

The Dr. Joyce Banda administration has raked in K355.2 billion from donors since April last year, according to the Ministry of Finance.

This follows the return of all the donors who had suspended or scaled down their programmes during the reign of late President Bingu wa Mutharika.

“General budget support was resumed immediately and all the money that was withheld prior to May, 2012 has been disbursed,” said the spokesperson of the Ministry of Finance, a Mr Msowoya.

The good donors, practically falling over themselves to bail Malawi out of her dire straits, include:

  1. The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) which parted with 20 million of their British Pound (equivalent to K11.3 billion) in September 2012 as 2013 emergency budget support;
  2. The World Bank which disbursed US$50 million (equivalent to K17.9 billion) in November towards the same emergency budget support;
  3. Our own brothers, the African Development Bank (ADB), not to be outdone, forked out US$40 million (K14.3 billion) in November 2012;
  4. The European Union (EU), a friend in need is a friend indeed, injected 40 million of Euros which could have helped bail out other faltering economies in the Eurozone (equivalent to K19.2 billion) in November 2012; and
  5. In the same month, the de facto bosses of Malawi, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) doled out a cool US$40 million (K14.3 billion) as balance of payments.

The list continues – or in the vernacular as the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation used to say, mayinawa akupitilirabe.

Aid taps are flowing again, is there anything to write home about?

In December 2012, the German government did the honours, investing €5 million (K2.4 billion) towards the same cause. And that is not all.

As we speak, Malawi’s coffers, which should by now be overflowing, are anticipating a sum of K19.6 billion with the World Bank and the ADB, apparently firm subscribers of the beliefmphini imakoma nkubwereza,committed to disbursing US$ 50 million (K17.9 billion) and US$5 million (K1.7 billion) respectively in May 2013.

“This is the first time that the World Bank will make two budget support disbursements in one financial year,” Msowoya announced, very proud of himself, and of course for the motherland.

“Sector support to Health, Education, and Roads that was scaled down was restored,” explained a very happy Msowoya.

What is this money for?

The Treasury spokesperson said the funds are intended to help cushion shocks suffered due to the negative effects of the on-going reforms hence among other things, the World Bank’s allocating more funds to the Masaf Project to help scale up public works programme.

Along the same lines, the World Bank further approved a whooping US$695 million (K238.3 billion) for the next four years under the Country Assistance Strategy while Germans and Irish funds are meant to support the social cash transfer programme.

The bad – inherited problems?

Such a windfall – all things being equal – should have already started reflecting on the welfare of Malawians.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase J. Michael Straczynski (an American writer and producer), President Dr. Joyce Banda is:

  • spending  too much time finding other people to blame, and
  • wasting far too much energy finding excuses for not doing what she is capable of doing;

and sadly, not investing enough energy in:

  • putting her cabinet and government machinery in line,
  • unlearning past bad habits, and
  • moving Malawi to heights befitting a country that has, on top of local tax revenues, bagged K355.2 billion of forex in nine months.

Apparently our dear president is ignorant of George Washington Carver’s (American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor) observation that ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.

As a result, even own-made fiascos e.g. the current acute shortage of basic drugs due to ignoring early warnings from medical personnel are a manifestation of a deplorable inability to put the K355.2 billion to good and effective use in a quest to make a real difference in the lives of:

  • Farmers applying sand for fertilizer;
  • Malawians dying from lack of basic medicines;
  • Civil servants now on a sit-in after tiring of unfulfilled promises; and
  • Consumers who are yet to get the reprieve from the shocks attendant to the reform as intended by the World Bank.

If instead of taking the challenges head-on and working towards finding sustainable solutions, we are day in and day out blaming it all on a bad inheritance, how and when shall we forge ahead?

The ugly – ill-advised decisions and worse, sleaze

Let us move on to unrelated issues for a while. According to the Weekend Nation of Saturday 16 June 2012, six companies sued the Malawi Government for failing to pay them MK4.7 billion (about US$18.8 million) for various supplies, comprising mainly of police uniforms and riot equipment.

That riot gear had been ordered by the previous government. The Malawi Police Service (MPS), the end user of the equipment, unconvinced with the quality, refused to endorse payment. Up to this point, the DPP government was indeed to blame.

But now look at this: allegations were made that, the MPS objection notwithstanding, upon the advice of the then Minister of Justice cum Attorney General, the Vice President authorized release of K1.2 billion to the MPS to facilitate a part-payment of the disputed amounts.

According to sources, this bizarre high authority – for goods condemned by the end user – was influenced by graft. Now can anyone, in their right minds, blame the failure to take the suppliers to task on the DPP government?

Fine, let us assume that both Ralph Kasambara and Khumbo Kachale are innocent until proven guilty, and move on.

Other than the riot gear suppliers, the year 2012 saw government negotiating out of court payments in a number of cases most of which bordered on unfair dismissals, termination of contracts and unlawful detention. All these were shrouded in secrecy.

The Daily Times estimated the bill to be in the region of K2 billion and since then some more disgusting details and developments have emerged.

The first resembles the myth of Robin Hood only that in this case, Robin Hood was not robbing the rich to give unto the poor; but it was Robin Ralph raiding the state coffers to give unto himself.

As attorney general, Ralph Kasambara convinced the state to award to himself and his accomplices a cool K20 million for wrongful arrest. What happened to the notion of conflict of interest? Again, since Ralph Kasambara, then masquerading as a human rights defender was detained, let us let sleeping dogs lie.

How about the award of former Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director Alex Nampota of over K70 million from the government as compensation for his removal from office before the expiry of his contract. Whose bad decision and tactical approach made Nampota a millionaire at the tax-payer’s expense? Again why the secrecy surrounding the whole deal?

“Only a few people were part to this discussion and these include the (former) Attorney General and Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara, (former) Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga and Chief Secretary to government Bright Msaka,” a source privy to the discussions confided to the Daily Times.

Just this month, government has been forced to agree to pay, outside court, former Chief Executive Officer for Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) Charles Matabwa over K82 million for unfairtermination of contract.

And in an on-going case, Matilda Katopola is pursuing a case at Industrial Relations Court where she wants K900 million for what would have been her salaries, benefits, and retirement package calculated up to 2030 when she would have retired.

Now the sums involved and wasted as a result of bad decisions emanating from equally bad legal advice, are not small at all.

Nampota’s millions, for instance, could have provided months’ worth of drugs for our hospitals, and Matabwa’s millions could have been better invested to improve power generation and reduce blackouts and Katopola’s millions? I shudder to even imagine the hole this K900 million will create in the treasury!

And the sad thing is that these are not the only new millionaires in town. On the other side of the coin are the suppliers and transporters of the infamoussandelizer. I will not dwell on this for two reasons:

  1. By now all those that support this scheme ought to know better and,
  2. For fear of pre-empting the Anti-Corruption Bureau when it moves on the sandelizer suppliers and transporters – after the May  2014 elections when, from the look of things, the state house will change occupants.

The fact is: this season there have only been two good outcomes out of the FISP. The first one is the invention of this magic commodity called sandelizer– which by the way we would do well to export, and the creation of  overnight millionaires.

And before I forget, check this out: lined up for the next huge pay-out is Bashir Ntavhani aka Big Bashir of Apex Car Sales, the company infamous for the corruption that surrounded  its contract to supply 110 Land Rovers to various government departments way back in year 2000.

Big Bashir, a personal friend to Ralph Kasambara and once represented by Henry Phoya S.C. in the same case, has joined the bandwagon and is suing the Malawi Government over the Land rover deal.

Ralph Kasambara S.C. will of course advise the government not to contest, billions will be paid to Big Bashir and your guess is as good as mine as to who will get greased.

The bottom-line is that nothing good can come from billions – not matter how many – in the midst of the good, the bad and ugly.  And for sure the donor monies were not intended to create overnight millionaires; they were intended to make a dent on the rampant poverty and cushion the poor from the effects of the so called reform.

Any surprise that after years and years of aid, we are still on our two knees begging? Ever heard of pouring water into a broken vessel? Look no further, Malawi is a classic example, turning orange with rot.

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