UDF’s money and Muluzi’s father Christmas act

The extent to which some people will go, to show to the world at large their stupidity can be quite amazing. Take for instance, recent developments in the former ruling United Democratic Front (UDF).  The UDF, in these days of the internet, email, sms and tweeter, has rediscovered the forgotten art of letter writing.

The party’s  acting President Friday Jumbe and Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, a few weeks ago wrote the former president Bakili Muluzi urging him to pay back to the party money amounting to K125 million that came through his personal account but was meant for party activities.

“We, as current leaders of the UDF, have the sacred duty of safeguarding and protecting the party’s monies and properties. We are therefore making a formal demand for your handover of over U$ 750,000,” the letter addressed to Muluzi is reported to have said.

Muluzi: O his trademark handsout

Well, make no mistake about this: IF indeed Muluzi dipped his fingers into a pot of money meant for party activities and used the same to settle personal bills or to make personal investments or squandered it in any manner not benefitting the party, then “the current leadership of the UDF”, as the two refer to themselves, have a valid case – and Muluzi senior should forthwith come forward with a lucid answer and stop hiding behind lawyers. Fotseki!

But what makes one wonder whether in this particular case, the best thing is not just to let sleeping dogs lie, is the fact that: if it is indeed true that Muluzi swindled the UDF of this money, then this was not a first and yet the two gentlemen did nothing at that time to expose or stop him. What makes the likes of Jumbe and Makwangwala stupid is the fact they were in fact clapping hands when Muluzi was going about “swindling” money meant to run the party or worse, they too had their hands in the kitty!

Everyone in Malawi knows Muluzi senior’s definition and methodology of tackling poverty alleviation and political engineering. In case you were too young during the Muluzi decade, I will recount these and again, if your memory needs jogging, I will jog it – for free.

The former president’s style of poverty alleviation was to go about distributing money at mass rallies, in supermarkets, and at public places. Kandodo Supermarkets, places like Chimseu in Ndirande are just some places that witnessed Muluzi’s charitable activities.

And to be honest, once, even I, benefitted from his generosity. It was a Saturday and I was having a cold one, with friends, at Ndirande Flats. The presidential convoy which was driving by, from where – I cannot recall, stopped at the Flats.

And out came the president, with a bundle of money which, in his usual fashion, he dispersed. To get some, one had to be tough and rough, but it was worth it. After all, nothing in this life comes easy.

After Muluzi’s brief stopover, we were able to look the barman in the eye and ask him for our bills. You see, what normally happens in drinking joints is that as you exercise your elbow, you mentally keep track of your bill, even when you have no money. In fact, your memory and maths are even sharper when you are broke.

After a while, you ambush the barman with a “how much is my bill?” – hoping that he will get mixed up and give you a bill that is less a bottle or two; a bottle or two whose contents are at this point history, and are now freely flowing in your alimentary canal.

When the barman shows you your bill, and you notice that it is not your lucky day (the barman’s maths is right) you start strategizing how to dodge the bill without actually bolting on the double from the bar – which would be very dishonourable not to say uncomfortable.  Running after drinking beer, is very taxing. If on the other hand, the barman is wrong, he gifts you a perfect excuse for walking away, claiming that he wanted to swindle you. He who drinks and walks away, I always say, lives to drink and pay another day.

But with free money like that, money that literally came down like manna, we found the courage to face the barman, asking for our bills. And some of us even settled not only that day’s bill; but cleared bills that were months old right away, telling the bar man, while we were at it, to keep the change.

Thanks to presidential intervention, we had been saved from coming up with long stories of how all the ATM machines were not working on that day in town, and why we could not settle the bills immediately, and just how we loved drinking at the Ndirande Flats and therefore still had to pass by even when all the ATM machines in town were refusing to cooperate.

As to political engineering, Muluzi never bothered much to convince opponents to subscribe to his way of thinking through logical arguments, no. He bought them. He paid hefty sums of money to John Tembo, Khwauli Msiska and others during the third term and open terms campaign for their support.

Again, to sell Bingu, he had to part with huge sums of money. Payments like these, like my Ndirande Flats experience, were devoid of accountable documentation. That was how the UDF did business and hence created a loophole which Muluzi could use to steal party money – if and when he wanted to.

Coming back to Jumbe and Makwangwala, who in all likelihood, were with Muluzi on such trips and in such endeavours, where did they think the money was coming from? Why didn’t they, especially Jumbe who was at that time the Finance Minister, request us at Ndirande Flats to line up to get the “beer” money in orderly fashion, so that at the end of the day, we could all sign for what we received and he could take home a receipted voucher for his files?

And seriously, why should they, today of all days, and this year after all these years, suddenly realise that they have a “sacred duty of safeguarding and protecting the party’s monies and properties?” If this is their way of getting at Atupele Muluzi, who it must be said, since joining the race to 2014 has yet to make a mistake – except being his father’s son – then they have another think coming.

The best that the UDF old guard, who in their time stupidly let Muluzi senior lead them to a dead end more than once, can do is to be thankful that Atupele has come along. With him, they stand a slight chance of having a friend’s son in the corridors of power – if they support his ventures.

These Jumbes and Makwangwalas in all likelihood benefited from among others, the Santa Claus tours that Muluzi senior made and the immense payments that were made to change political opponents’ viewpoints. In the UDF, no one asked anyone to support expenditure with receipts. And so they too must have kept something for a rainy day. If the rainy day has evolved into many rainy days, they only have themselves to blame – they ought to have made hay while the sun was shining.

And if they had indeed made hay while the sun was shining, the UDF would have, like a united and democratic front, democratically picked its 2004 candidate. And this would have saved everybody the mess we are in.

Jumbe, Makwangwala and company: stop crying over spilt milk, get up and join Atupele’s act – now! Or forever hold your peace!

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