A survey carried out in 11 districts in the country to gauge citizen perception of key issues and elections has revealed that cashgate and the way government handled the matter is a concern to the electorate.
The research identified the Capital Hill looting of public money and President Joyce Banda’s handling of the matter as one of the determining factor in the May 20 polls.
It was conducted at Chintheche Town in Nkhata Bay, and Mzimba in the Northern Region; Lilongwe Rural, Ntcheu, Salima, Mchinji in the Centre; and Machinga, Balaka Town, Thyolo, Mwanza, Nsanje in the South.
The focus-group research targeted nine groups whose education is up to Standard Eight and two groups who attended secondary school.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, and National Democratic Institute conducted the public opinion research using quantitative methodology in November 2013 covering four groups of people aged up to 25 and seven groups of above 25 years. There were six males and five females in each group.
The report says the participants expressed disappointment and dismay on the huge amounts of public money stolen in government and demonstrated recognition of the impact cashgate would have on the service delivery and development and want solution before the elections.
“We have never heard huge amounts stolen like that. How can such a thing happen?” reads the report quoting one of the electorate interviewed. “It [cashgate] is arousing fear in us because that money was meant to meet the nation’s demands in schools, hospitals, etc. Instead, the money is being plundered by our own leaders.”
The report further says most of the people interviewed expressed ignorance of what action President Joyce Banda has taken in dealing with the culprits connected to cashgate while others said she has not done enough.
“To say the truth, we do not know what the President has done,” says one participant, adding that people want more action that can include Cabinet dismissals of those connected.
It further says some electorates blame Banda for hiding behind the fact that there were revelations that cashgate started in 2005 and demand vigorous investigation, firings, arrests and repayment of money stolen while others are disappointed with quick releases through bail of suspects.
“Overall, [the cashgate] promotes desire for change for new leaders,” reads the report.
The report also mentions Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) and its handling, food security, economy stabilisation and improvement of education standards as some of the factors to influence voting patterns.
The participants observed there is corruption in the way Fisp is administered and that it benefits the rich and has caused conflicts and frustrations in villages, especially when traditional leaders charged with the responsibility of identifying beneficiaries favour their relations.
“It is better to end the subsidy programme because the programme has caused a lot of fighting among people in the villages. What the government should do is find a better price of fertiliser that would allow everyone, poor or rich, to buy a bag of fertiliser,” says one participant.
Some prospective voters expressed concern that allegations of vote rigging discourage them from voting because sometimes it becomes apparent that candidates who do not serve their people well are winning through such malpractice.
“Sometimes the number of votes does not tally with the number of voters. For example, the number of voters could be three and the votes counted five. I feel that with a lot of corruption, votes will be rigged. If people are stealing money from banks, what could stop them from stealing votes?” queried a participant in the research.
The report also notes that the people involved in the research indicate that their vote would not be influenced by gender because whether a candidate is a man or a woman, they were interested in a person who would exercise justice and knows the problems facing diverse Malawians.
It also says religion and age would not be a determining factor when choosing the next president of the country, but leaders who would demonstrate ability to move the country’s development agenda while others are opting for young leaders since the old have been tried.
“A woman has the right to rule according to her wisdom, education and her ability just like a man. It is not a mandate that it is a man only who should rule. A woman can also rule. If a woman is strong, she can rule,” a female participant is quoted.
“Religion will not affect our vote in any way because politics and religion are two different things. In politics, we only concentrate on developing our nation. We shall never consider age to affect our vote, but rather the candidate’s character, heart and whether he is people-centred,” reads the report.
People’s Party (PP) deputy publicity secretary Ken Msonda in a questionnaire response on Wednesday said he was not aware of the research findings, but was quick to say President Banda and the governing party were waiting for the truth on cashgate to come out through the court system.
Msonda said the party has confidence in the country’s justice system that it would handle the cashgate to the satisfaction of Malawians and claimed that the electorate has already seen the difference in the zeal to fight corruption between Banda and previous presidents.
Said Msonda: “The action by our leader Dr Joyce Banda, her unwavering resolve to tackle this matter, gives a lot of confidence to the voter out there and this is for the first time that a sitting President has talked about ending corruption and has acted according to the spoken words.”
“This far, the President Dr Joyce Banda is waiting for the court cases to conclude. She put forward her desire to root out this problem. She is the only President who has walked the talk on corruption. She is so far satisfied just as we as the party and all peace-loving citizenry also are happy,” he said.
Chancellor College political analyst Boniface Dulani agreed with the report that cashgate has obviously been a major dent on the credibility of President Banda’s government.
Said Dulani: “Although so far she has not herself been implicated, the scandal has created, at worst, an impression of a government that is weak and vulnerable to being taken advantage of by corrupt individuals, some of whom have been very close to the presidency. Although the government has tried to portray the scandal as a demonstration of its commitment to fighting corruption, this message has not gotten much traction.”
Dulani, however, said some opposition parties such as Democratic Progressive Party and United Democratic Front could not make political capital out of the cashgate because they also had major corruption scandals.
“Thus, as much as I think cashgate is going to impact on the elections, I doubt it is going to have such a decisive effect on Joyce Banda’s election chances,” he said.
“On the other hand, the issue of economic stabilisation might work in Joyce Banda’s favour. After a period of economic collapse, her government has managed to stabilise the economy, taking it away from the free-fall of the last months of late Mutharika’s government,” he added.
He said he was not surprised that the research identified food security, hunger, economy stabilisation and fertiliser subsides as among the top issues to influence people’s voting choices.
“This has also been reflected in Afrobarometer surveys, where in 2012, food shortage and famine were rated as the top-most problem that Malawians felt government should be addressing,” he said.
“These elections are still too close to call. I think if the opposition parties had strong candidates, Joyce Banda’s chances of victory would have been significantly diminished by cashgate. It speaks volumes about the weak field of opposition candidates that Joyce Banda, in my estimation, is still marginally ahead,” he said.
Dulani said although fears of rigging are frustrating for voters, similar concerns have not stopped Malawians from turning up to cast their votes as voter turnout has been consistently averaging 77 percent in the last four elections.