Of arms deals connection to Malawi cashgate corruption scandal

Early last month, I made the bold assertion that President Joyce Banda is directly and conclusively implicated in the Cashgate scandal. Since then, there have been further revelations that President Banda also unconstitutionally engaged the London-based public relations firm, Bell Pottinger to launder her image internationally.

It has additionally been revealed that Joyce Banda committed Malawi illicitly into an arms deal with the Paramount group. These reports, as I shall demonstrate, make it rather unnecessary for me to need to justify the veracity of “Licence to Loot”, my report on the Cashgate corruption scandal in Malawi.

When I compiled and published the Cashgate report, the severe criticism that I received ranged from claims that what I had written could not be defined as a report (it could and can, to personal character attacks (all false ones), to allegations that the report was not comprehensive and accurate enough (that my findings were accurate was justified by the subsequent arrests – although many more need to be made, and a more comprehensive report would have to be a book- which is in progress).

The implications of the illegal arms deal that President Banda has made, however, and its relationship, to the Cashgate scandal, needs to be expounded and closely examined.

President Banda in arms deal

This deal is simply going to be more quicksand around President Banda’s government. First and foremost, why does Malawi need patrol boats if the dispute between Tanzania and Malawi is being arbitrated? In president Banda’s response, the boats are to stop illegal Somali immigrants, yet in the same breath, she was also claiming that Malawians are nervous because of Tanzanian presence on the lake!

Those that follow corrupt practices closely cannot be surprised by this confused response for they easily will note that illegal arms deals are important to a president whose popularity is diminishing rapidly. The hypothesis in this case is that realising that her time in the presidential seat may soon come to an end, President Banda has borrowed a leaf out of other corrupt African leaders and has somehow become a crook with a vision.

The illegal purchase of boats from the Paramount Group is, according to President Banda’s claim, intended to calm nervous Malawians, as the water vessels will patrol Lake Malawi looking for Somali illegal immigrants and Tanzanian invaders. If this were true, these boats would have been purchased long ago, not after the revelations of Cashgate.

For a beleaguered president however, the timing of this purchase is essentially to divert the attention of Malawians from Cashgate and make her look “tough” on Lake Malawi issues, which she has so far failed to deal with. This is in the hope that she then can repel election campaign attacks on this front.

The fact that the payment for the boats includes payment for the services of the PR firm Bell Pottinger is what makes this transaction even more worrying for Malawians. On the surface, the line given to the public is that the expensive image management services of Bell Pottinger are being paid for by the Paramount Group.

However, it should not require rocket science intelligence for Malawians to see that if Malawi is paying the Paramount Group for armed boats in a deal which has been shrouded in mystery and has been concealed even from parliament, then the amount that Malawi has paid for the armed boats could very easily have included money to be taken onward and paid to Bell Pottinger.

Furthermore, Malawians should be concerned and wary of the deal because such are the deals that corrupt leaders use to stash foreign currency abroad. Having been paid undisclosed sums of money in an illegal deal that Malawians know nothing about and the president cannot answer to anybody, the money could be used to open an account for Joyce Banda overseas, or be deposited in an already existent one. For powerful global operators such as Bell Pottinger and the Paramount Group, these kinds of transactions are like buying a pack of cigarettes.

According to The Telegraph, President Banda has also “committed Malawi to paying for Paramount to provide training and maintenance for the boats over the next five years, as well as potentially buying other, larger boats from the company”. Again this is a classic tool used by corrupt leaders, who commit their countries to deals that will continue even beyond the time they are in office ensuring that bills will continue to be raised for this and that by the seller company, and in those bills guaranteeing their own financial security by ensuring they continue to get their cut.

While these are all assumptions and hypotheses, they are based on trends in executive corrupt practices, and are supported by the fact that the contract that Malawi sealed is in secrecy and therefore potentially has loopholes for the Paramount Group and Bell Pottinger to exploit.

It is always easier to dismiss these analyses as simply campaigns to tarnish the image of President Banda than to examine the evidence, consider the trends and practices and come to objective and dispassionate conclusions. It was with such prejudice and negativity that President Banda’s supporters reacted to “Licence to Loot”. Yet the truth of the matter, when all is said and done, is that Cashgate still is a clear and present danger to Malawi’s political governance and economic development, and that the President in still implicated in it and has not to date done anything or said anything to clear her name or distance herself. On the contrary, President Banda’s continued refusal to declare her assets, and her eagerness to clear her name superficially using firms like Bell Pottinger speak volumes about her hand in Cashgate.

Some explanation in necessary for president Joyce Banda and her band of willing cronies who have justified her refusal to declare assets on technical grounds, arguing that since she declared her assets when she became Vice President, she is not obliged by law to declare them again now.

Leadership should be driven by moral imperatives as opposed to technical considerations. If good governance were based merely on what is technically directed, the running of governments would be more academic and mechanical than real.

In other words, the requirement that a leader should be answerable on questions of transparency and accountability should be taken by anyone in a leadership position to be a matter of moral campus rather than a technical requirement. Questions of transparency and accountability, beyond the requirements of the letter of the law, interrogate into the moral integrity of a leader. They raise issues that are founded on honesty, trustworthiness and decency. To try to hide behind the sanctuaries of technicalities of the law from moral questions is to miss the point. Moral questions are never resolved technically.

The people of Malawi are simply asking if their leader can be honest to tell them how much she had before she became President and how much she has accumulated so far. Given the serious nature of the Cashgate scandal, and the allegations that the President is implicated in the looting, this should be the only moral thing for the president to do. In hiding behind what the law provides,

Banda is not addressing her moral obligation to the people of Malawi.  She is saying she will not be honest with the people of Malawi because the law does not compel her to do so.

This is why the question cannot be dismissed: If President Joyce Banda is not connected to Cashgate, has not received corrupt payments in unconstitutional arms deals, and has nothing to hide, why does she have to invoke the law to parry demands that she should be transparent and tell Malawians how much she is worth?

It is interesting that the president who has done so many things outside the law wants to follow the law only when she is pressed to be transparent and accountable. For example, which law required her to cut her salary by 30 percent, if it were not just a moral issue? Which law required her to sell the presidential jet and start travelling using commercial flights, if it were not just a moral consideration? Which law required her government to cut on spending after donors withheld aid, if it were not just a moral decision? If she can do these things by simply harkening to her moral conscience, why does she dismiss it on the need to be transparent in light of Cashgate and Boatgate? Your guess is as good as mine.

The arguments above are meant to help Malawians to connect the dots and open their eyes to the fact that Cashgate is connected to BoatGate. Cashgate has given birth to Boatgate. Both of them demonstrate illegal and unscrupulous exercise of power by President Joyce Banda, first to enrich herself by stealing from her people, and secondly by using the very proceeds of the looting to cover up and set herself up for future payments from the poor Malawian taxpayer.

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