This has been a busy week for President Peter Mutharika. For some time, people misconstrued his silence and absence from the public eye and created so many versions about his health.
Nature does not like a vacuum. There are times that silence is not golden and to say the basics, this was not the time for the President to stay aloof.
So when Mutharika broke his cocoon and talked, the rumour-mongers stopped wagging their tongues.
For one, in a 15-minute televised Statement on Coronavirus Measures, Mutharika indicated that the Special Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 would be replaced with a Presidential Taskforce on Coronavirus. The taskforce, reporting to the President, would be co-chaired by a Cabinet minister and a professor of public health. It would also include the Leader of Opposition, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), the civil society, a senior chief and the Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham).
This is fine news, which came after many sectors were bewildered with the Special Cabinet Committee and how it was operating. As a matter of fact, we have seen how the committee flawed in the past by instituting a lockdown without really looking at the effects of such a lockdown on the populace. That was clear in spots of demonstrations a day before it was effected and the subsequent granting of an injunction against it.
The commission now has a colossal task on how operations in dealing with the pandemic will be conducted.
It is clear that some people wanted to cash in from the whole calamity. Imagine, while chair for the cabinet committee Jappie Mhango and Minister of Information Mark Botomani went to town on several occasions that they were not pocketing allowances, it came to light that, in fact, ministers were going home with K450 000 and members of Parliament K350 000.
The officialese for that plunder was called a risk token. Imagine, one minister getting that horrific amount for a day (read that as an hour or so) while frontline health workers get, after struggles, a paltry K50 000 risk allowance per month. Someone must account for this malaise, really.
In that address, Mutharika also announced that 172 000 household in would benefit from an Emergency Cash Transfer Programme. These would get K35 000 each for six months.
I have no problem with that. But how will these beneficiaries be identified? The hope is that these funds do not benefit the chosen few with political connections. We have seen perceived national programmes such as the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), the Malata Subsidy Programme and others going only to those that toe political party lines. It is not only during the DPP rule that this has happened, it was even evident during the United Democratic Front (UDF) rule and it spread through Bingu wa Mutharika’s tenure and subsequently during Joyce Banda’s cattle and housing programmes.
It is a disease that has eaten the very nerve of our national ethos. Stealing and patronizing on national programmes has become our daily life. It is life as normal, business as usual.
Which is why there is a greater need to monitor how funds to do with Covid-19 are being used at all levels. Government opened a special account where well-wishers are depositing money to assist in the pandemic. There is need to monitor how these funds are used, or else they may end up in the pockets of few heartless individuals siphoning the money with such euphemisms as risk token. n