Honourable Folks, something about the word “just” casts a spell on Malawian politicians. In the past week alone, politicians on both sides of the political divide have used “just” in a manner that betrays a tendency to take voters for granted.
On Saturday, 18th January, Information Minister Brown Mpinganjira—flanked by Finance Minister Maxwell Mkwezalamba and the latter’s deputy, Cornelius Mwalwanda—told a press conference in Blantyre Malawians should “just” have to wait till the end of the month to see the forensic cashgate report.
Yet, the report we should continue waiting for is ready and government has started using it. Mkwezalamba used its contents to declare that K8.9 billion, and not K20 billion as earlier reported by the Financial Intelligence Bureau (FIB), was looted from the public kitty through cashgate.
Not only that; the minister has also confirmed that the executive summary for the forensic cashgate report had been sent to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). So why should we still “just” have to wait? Why can’t we have even the summary that was sent to IMF?
This is how Mkwezalamba reportedly opined on the issue: “This was an executive summary and was specifically meant for the IMF. It’s not what Malawians are looking for. It doesn’t contain the nitty-gritty that Malawians are looking for…”
The rush to IMF while thinking that it’s okay for Malawians to “just” wait for the end of the month for the so-called “nitty-gritties” is to take voters for granted. It shows IMF is the constituency that matters more. Were it to happen elsewhere in the democratic world, more likely multitudes would’ve gone to the street if only to remind government who it should be answering to.
Come Sunday, 19th January, at a press conference addressed by DPP president Peter Mutharika, Goodall Gondwe pulled another “just” surprise. In a spirited fight to exonerate DPP on cashgate, Gondwe was quoted as having said: “What was happening during DPP was just mere corruption not cashgate. Corruption happens all over the world.”
Corruption may indeed happen all over the world, but what went into the former minister’s head that he could describe a malaise that eats up 30 percent of government revenue every year—an equivalent of the entire donor aid that went into last year’s budget—“just mere corruption”?
If indeed Gondwe’s “just mere corruption” view resonates with the thinking in DPP (we shall tell by what the party and its leadership say on corruption as the campaign for the tripartite elections builds to a crescendo) then there is a serious image problem voters can ignore at their peril.
“Just mere corruption” defined a governance scenario in which a president, who declared assets worth K150 million on assuming office, is alleged to have amassed over K60 billion wealth by the time of his sudden death in office, eight years later!
“Just mere corruption” made the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) so porous, way before 2012, that bad guys in the public and private—including the banking sectors—were able to establish networks through which government cheques, fraudulently produced, could be encashed (stories on this issue pre-dating the cashgate scandal are available in NPL library).
On matters of corruption, Malawi—whether under Bakili Muluzi, Mutharika or Banda’s leadership—has always been, to borrow from first president Kamuzu Banda most loved expression , “not just a performer but a star performer.” So high is the loss of public revenue to corruption—and cashgate has many traits of it if looked at from the Sadc Protocol Against Corruption definition—that when compared with the Sadc average of 20 percent, we all have a good reason to get worried indeed.
So, Mpinganjira and company on the government side, and Gondwe and company on the opposition side have no business using the word “just” to justify the failures of their sides in dealing decisively with corruption, including cashgate.
If we allow them that luxury, “just” another 50 years will elapse only to discover we haven’t moved an inch from poverty. The only thing that’s likely to remain unchanged is that the corrupt will not “just” cart home “mere” millions but billions of kwacha as reportedly did president Mutharika and the champions of cashgate.