I missed the BBC Hardtalk when Zeinab Badawi was speaking to Professor Peter Mutharika, the State President of the Republic of Malawi. I later leant that there would be a rebroadcast of the program at 6:30pm that same day, and I was all geared up to be in front of the TV by 6:20pm. But courtsey of ESCOM load shedding, I missed the rebroadcast as well.
Thanks to technology, I managed to download the podcast and I have since listened to the interview more than six times. I am very proud of my President for braving the tough interview with Zeinab Badawi. During the interview, the president singled out three challenges namely, cashgate, donor withdraw and floods as being the key factors that have disadvantaged his leadership, stressing that he is the only president in the history of Malawi to have been faced with these three challenges at once.
While I agree that these might be our current challenges, I doubt they are the root problems. In fact, two of them were fully known to him prior to his ascension to the presidency. The floods would therefore be the only challenge that he might not have anticipated. But again, knowing how we have carelessly been destroying our trees and vegetation, and the reality of climate change effects, no one, including the president should be surprised that Malawi has made itself a disaster prone nation. I am therefore assuming that all the three challenges have not taken our president by surprise.
On cashgate, I am deeply disturbed that the President seemed to use it as the main scapegoat to explain our economic malaise. Yes, some MK24billion was syphoned from government coughers, but that is less than3% of our 2015/2016 approved national budget. There is no denying that cashgate was one glaring evil of 2013, but it is surely not the major cause of our perennial economic challenges.
Zeinab quoted a Malawian academic, Jimmy Kainja as saying about 35% of government funds have been stolen in the past decade. That will be about MK270 billion stolen from the 2015/2016 national budget. Sadly, our public financial management system is still leaking badly and it is the reason why donors have preferred to channel their financial support to Malawi off budget. We must be deeply concerned that two years after cashgate, and over a year after ushering in a new government, donors still don’t trust our ability to properly manage and account for money.
Responding to the issue of the presidential jet which was bought under the leadership of the late Prof.Bingu wa Mutharika, our president, told BBC; “We don’t know where she sold it to and we don’t know where the proceeds went, and that is something we are investigating”. Mind you, this is the State President of the Republic of Malawi, who has been in office for more than 17 months, and he still doesn’t know where a whole jet was sold and where the proceeds went.
If someone can sell a whole presidential jet, no money received into a government bank account, and a Head of State, has no clue where the jet went; who then might know where the drugs being stolen from our hospitals are going? Who might know where more than 30% of our government resources disappear to? If the country’s only jet can disappear without trace, what else is disappearing from the public asset register?
For over six years, the state is still pursuing a corruption case involving K1.7million against one of the former heads of state. Why not just acquit the accused if we have no intention to conclude the case? Mr President, we have a serious problem which is much bigger that the three you highlighted in the BBC Hardtalk interview.
We must be deeply concerned as citizens that there is probably no serious fight against corruption and theft of public resources in this nation. But until we make it tough for thieves, looters and corrupt people to get away with crime in this nation, we will not make any economic progress and that makes me a very sad and frustrated citizen.
- The author is chairperson of Economists Association of Malawi