Last Wednesday, Transparency International (TI) told Malawians what they have always known: that we are greedy and corrupt. The only consolation being that maybe other nationals around the world are slightly more corrupt than us.
The Malawi society has allowed corruption to flourish at every level and it has become as normal as breathing and eating nsima. Corruption is taking place in all sectors. Be it in agriculture, health or education. A place at a prestigious but affordable secondary school can no longer be guaranteed on the strength of a child’s ability to pass entrance exams alone. The doba dobas as their name suggests remain a common feature in the corridors of the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DTRSS), offering to show the ‘big man’ where to place their fingers for prints or which window to collect a driving license from, even when it is clearly marked.
At the Office of the Registrar General, a Malawian will not simply pay for a service and expect it to be carried out without paying an additional K5 000 just to fast-track something that should take no more than 10 minutes.
But what is alarming about the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is TI’s observation that there is rampant systemic corruption in poor under-developed countries like Malawi, which they say is providing a fertile ground for populist politicians.
The 2019 elections are around the corner. Watch the business scramble for the attention of the President, look out for contracts to foreign businesses with bad track records internationally as they are given multi-million dollar deals with little due diligence. Between now and 2019, watch as cronyism hits an all-time high and Cashgate as you knew it in 2013 flourishes.
To date, questions remain about the Cashgate buses procured at the height of Cashgate. We have learnt they were not for the Ministry of Tourism, nor for the Office of the President and Cabinet. When Leonard Kalonga pleaded guilty to using government resources to procure those buses, he denied Malawians the right to know, once and for all, if indeed he was about to establish a bus company or those buses were a ‘thank you’ gift to the politicians for turning a blind eye to the plunder of billions from Account Number One.
In the same vein, whatever happened to the buses, pick-up trucks and bicycles that hit the streets at the height of the 2014 tripartite elections? It boggles the mind that a political party could have accumulated such assets after being in power for a mere two years.
Before the 2009 elections, Bingu wa Mutharika bought vehicles and buses that donned party colours. Remnants of the yellow pick-ups prior to that can still be seen on the streets once in a while. But Malawians are famous for selective amnesia. When it is your turn to eat and your mouth is full of buns, no questions are asked. When the bun is swallowed, another one is shoved into the mouth.
Corruption at the grand scale that Cashgate became was not the result of an overnight scheme hatched by some no-good civil servants. Those being prosecuted now simply took advantage of the greed that is apparent in most Malawian businessmen and individuals, the desire for quick rich schemes.
As money exchanges hands at that secondary school, as a name of a genuine beneficiary of a government subsidy is deleted from that computer at Capital Hill and as the hand of the driver stretches out of the window to shake that of a traffic officer, the lives of ordinary people continue to deteriorate.
Meanwhile, Katowo Health Centre has no ambulance this rainy season to serve thousands of Malawians living in the Hewe valley. Transparency International has put it succinctly: People are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity.