The family-based criminal syndicate known as the Mafia that originated in southern Italy in mid 19th century had a very interesting expression to describe the various levies on businesses that they criminally imposed in return for protection: We have to wet our beaks.
I was reminded of the expression this week when I saw the exchange of words between President Joyce Banda and some MPs over their demand to be paid fuel allowances worth K10 million each dating back to 2009.
While the President’s argument that government cannot afford the colossal sums involved in this madness because of the rotten economic situation should make sense, it cannot hold water in the eyes of many Malawians as she has not shown leadership in preaching and practising austerity herself.
As one MP argued, this seeking of public sympathy can only resonate with the President’s own supporters on the government gravy train, not the rest of us.
What is happening is that MPs simply want to “wet their beaks”, seeing how others, including the President, herself, are having the ride of their time while poor Malawians continue bearing the full brunt of their reckless policies.
How can the President, for example, justify blowing K34 million to go to a country that few Malawians would recognise on the map of Africa? In whose benefit was her trip to Equatorial Guinea whose only value was completing the quorum for a talk shop with South America?
Worse still, while the State House operatives were eager to lie to Malawians that the razzmatazz was fully paid for by that country, my Weekend Nation once again exposed the crookedness to the public when it was tipped off by some noble Malawians showing that actually the jolly ride cost the public purse a cool K34 million in the much-needed foreign currency.
Coming at a time when the country is reeling from lack of forex and drugs and civil servants crying for better pay that even forced school children to try to march to Sanjika to demand their right to education, this is a stinker that exposes the kind of leadership that we have in Malawi.
But in the President’s wisdom, Malawians should be grateful and stop worrying about the K34 million she blew because she struck a deal with her counterpart in Equatorial Guinea that the country should export tomatoes.
The English have a hackneyed saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Malawians should only believe in this cover-up when exporters tell us that they have exported the tomatoes and forex has been banked.
I have serious difficulties in believing something that the President herself doubted when she told the nation the obvious fact that there are no direct flights between Equatorial Guinea and Malawi to transport the tomato, a highly perishable product.
It was merely a justification for blowing colossal sums of money at a time some Malawians can hardly afford a bar of Maluwa soap or a proverbial pinch of salt due to the poor economic policies adopted by the People’s Party administration in the name of reforming the economy.
As for MPs demands, they are simply following the lead from the President. They, too, want to “wet their beaks” in the pot of money coming from poor people’s tax. They do not see why they should be excluded from this jamboree and loot of the public purse when their colleagues are enjoying the free ride.
But our politicians must know that Malawians are not drooling idiots. The signs of a frustrated population are there for all to see. When you have strikes with children marching to the State House, forging of presidential resignation letters and people willing to expose the State House, you better watch your step.
Banda and her government better take heed. They can do better than cover a K34 million lie with tomato.