Of taxes, borrowings and potholes: No sacred cows

David Loga, Director of Finance at the Malawi Revenue Authority, is a long time friend of mine who is an intelligent chap, so intelligent that it is totally unfair for the system of our government to make him look like an idiot. For how else would a chartered accountant be regarded if, contrary to International Accounting Standard 18 and International Public Sector Accounting Standards 9 and 23 on revenue recognition, he was made to treat borrowed cash as revenue? By his own admission, the K15 billion was paid back three days later to the commercial banks with an interest charge of K60 million, enough to buy medicine for the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital for an entire month at the very minimum!

You might say we’re dwelling too much on this story, that it is beginning to sound like a record that has been played repeatedly all night at a party. But K15 billion is a lot of money to me. It is enough to share K1,153 per person amongst all the 13 million of us which – even in these days of devaluation – is a significant amount. It is enough to build roads and schools and hospitals, seal potholes and pay decent salaries to our doctors to prevent the brain drain.

Lipenga:Cannot dump such a hot seat

It turns out somebody is telling us lies. Somebody was busy ordering David Loga to cook books with the approval of his boss – Llyod Muhara, the Commissioner General – so that this country’s budget should be seen to be performing. Many people, it emerges, do not wish this country well. And these, unfortunately, are the ones entrusted with the power to run the institutions that make this nation.

Even as we speak, there are serious problems that need urgent attention. The previous government left this country in the Intensive Care Unit from which it will take ages to emerge. Take the following experience this week by Chiwoza Bandawe, lecturer at the College of Medicine. He wrote on Facebook: ‘The South African Airways (SAA) flight I was travelling on Wednesday was delayed by two hours because there was a huge pothole on the runway at the Chileka International Airport and this posed a safety risk to the plane. The SAA Captain refused to take off unless it was fixed. As there was no tar, the hole was patched with concrete and we were told it would take an hour to dry! After much communication with Johannesburg and working out calculations of the runway length, weight of plane etc we taxied past the hole, avoiding it and took off from a shorter distance about 75% of the runway. The Captain engaged full throttle and we managed to get off the ground. The result was I missed my Washington connection, as did those going to Hong Kong and other destinations. Question: How long does it take to discover a pothole? Why did we allow the situation to develop like this until the Captain (quite rightly) refused to take off? Malawi, let us be serious.’

We badly need seriousness at the Ministry of Finance, at the Malawi Revenue Authority and many other places. Lots of dead wood needs to be chopped. We do not need sacred cows. The longer this drama draws out, the worse our image becomes in the eyes of the world. Our very wellbeing as a nation is at stake here, world image notwithstanding.

While Dr Charles Mataya has led by example by resigning as Board Chairman, it still beats logic that Lloyd Muhara has not, the rest of the previous board has not, and Ken Lipenga is still Minister of Finance. Reminds me of Wadson Bini Deleza, a cabinet Minister in 1993 who, even when some of the politicians were busy dumping the Malawi Congress Party, said: ‘Ndani angasiye chimpando chonona ngati ichi?’ (Meaning: Who can dump such a hot seat?) This is Ken Lipenga’s Bini Deleza moment.

Granted there is a commission of enquiry going on, common sense ought to make some of these folks exit the stage to the left, before being forced to fall onto the scythe in a night of long knives in a bloody final scene like the one that made William Shakespeare’s Macbeth cry: ‘I’m now tied to a stake but, bear-like, I’ll fight the course.’

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