Understanding assets declaration

Going around asking people what asset declaration in Malawi is you get a feeling there may be a misunderstanding of what it really is. The understanding is that if a public officer is entering office he must declare all his assets, in the case of a cabinet minister for example; his houses, cash at bank, all businesses owned, motor vehicles and so on. There is no problem there.  However, most people believe wrongly that after the public figure’s term of office he has to have the same assets that he declared when entering office for example five years ago.

At the end of five years they want the person to have the same items declared with no any additions, no change in condition and that whatever cash was declared must not have increased, at most it must be a reduced amount what with handouts. This type of reasoning in nature is unrealistic. For a start every living persons’ desire is to grow, we do what we do as people or individuals to improve our lives. It’s unthinkable for one to join a profession where he knows he will not grow in any way. Even for jobs considered to be lowly, one joins them with the idea that at the end of the month he will be better than he was at the beginning.

In the case of our public figures in Malawi, most of them if not all receive huge salaries. We therefore expect them to put the money they receive to good use through acquiring of assets. Not to go far this week it has been reported that Malawi MPs have been given MK24 millions loans, do we expect all to consume this money without acquiring assets? The reality is most of the wiser ones will acquire assets that will generate income for them for years to come. The point is definitely they will have moved huge steps from the number of assets declared at the beginning of their tenure to the 90 days into office.

It is mesmerising to note the mentality of people some in big positions of government or the private sector who themselves have taken bank loans, some using their salary residual to build mansions in our great cities, yet the same people did not expect a Head of state, the late Bingu to build a magnificent house using either his salary or influentially a bank loan.

As a person and head of state, the president has a salary which in most cases is allegedly never used as we normal mortals do because of other benefits attached to the position and the constant travels. You would therefore expect that the head of state must be well ahead in monetary terms than any other citizen of the land especially those in paid employment. It follows then that if our private company chief executives, high ranking officials are building personal palaces, the president may build a fort.

The building of Ndata house by president Bingu Wa Muthalika should not have raised any unnecessary issues unless some people had evidence about the source of funding as coming from illegal means. As to the head of state in most countries, big private companies are much prepared to do anything for the sitting leader or his political party in anticipation of being considered favourably as a government partner. This is a practice the world over even in developed countries like the USA and UK. What lacks in our Malawi system is a mechanism on how gifts received whether from the private sector or other sources by people in high authority including political parties should be declared  and made transparent.

 Ndata 'House of late Bingu wa Mutharika
Ndata ‘House of late Bingu wa Mutharika

The appointment of a director of asset declaration in Malawi is welcome news. However, he has a huge task of implementing the act that instituted his position in a complex system and culture. He will need to learn fast the influence of our culture on how we handle asset acquisition and management, the general perception of wealth in Malawi and money in general. Which reminds me how in the 1990s people who used to steal money from government were glorified as being clever not knowing they are destroyers of themselves and  the Malawi nation in general including future generations.

The director needs to clarify the process of asset declaration to concerned public officers and educate the general public on the same. He needs to state how, when, to who and what procedure will need to be followed for people wanting to view information of particular individuals as I feel it is not necessary for obvious reasons that some of such sensitive information should be left out in our streets without due diligence, again from a cultural view and good practice.

The system has to be very tight so as to quickly pick up signals of any malpractice to avoid another ‘cashgate’ in future. By encouraging and acknowledging personal growth it must be stressed here is not condoning of thievery of public resources.

In my opinion the declaration of assets by public officers is meaningless if it does not recognise personal growth and if that growth is not allowed with legal means. What is needed is a requirement for public officers to publish their financial reports annually detailing verifiable sources of all their income whether salary, loans or gifts relating all to the use they have been put into. Otherwise we will have people screaming each time an official buys an asset such as happened recently when it was reported the president had bought a new personal motor car.

When asked about why she still gives huge amounts of money to a rich pastor, a certain member of a South African church said, ‘ I will have a huge problem if I knew my church leader was financially unstable, if he is not showing any signs of progress I will know there is no hope for me.’ Does this apply to our political leaders? Already some people have indicated they are feeling embarrassed that as a country Malawi has no private jet for their number one citizen. What does go around does come around so they say.

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