President Joyce Banda revealed a week ago that government has already submitted the preliminary forensic audit report on the cashgate scandal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Some loud mouths in the civil society have not been amused with the decision. The response of Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (Congoma) boss Voice Mhone and national secretary of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Chris Chisoni was scathing. But the reasons they gave for their displeasure are, to put it kindly, miserable.
The two faulted government for prioritising the IMF, not Malawians. But the question of priority does not count because IMF and Malawians are key stakeholders in cashgate. They both deserve to know.
Or, just read Mhone’s argument on why IMF should not have been prioritised.
One, he says, IMF does not pay taxes. And, two, he says being ‘a stakeholder that brought Ifmis…and continue to impose it on Malawi, they [IMF] will have a biased interest to the preliminary report.’
So Mr Mhone wants IMF to start paying tax? And on Ifmis, who should be blamed? Ifmis or the people who abused it?
For me, what the two gentlemen are advancing is very peripheral. They are about tactics, stagecraft and national pride, which, while crucial, are not the main issue.
The main issue is to question how IMF plans to use the report to help restore Malawi’s lost donor confidence. Second, the issue is how Malawians, through Parliament, plan to use the report to establish justice and have everybody implicated face the law.
In my view, the response of the two activists does not make them productive critics.
The most productive critics are those who observe the events of the public stage informed by history and perspective in the hope that one’s observations may lead to a better reality for the audience.
This is not an easy, job, obviously not one for boys. It is the hardest, yet the critical job which we expect our CSOs, who pride themselves as public watchdogs, to be doing.
What we have heard from the two gentlemen tells us more about the observers than the observed, offering us a good example of the prevailing elevation of the stylistic over the substantive—and of the visceral over the reflective—in the country’s political conversation.
Somehow, I am beginning to think that the indifference our governments have towards criticism does not always stem from being absolutely corrupted by absolute power. Rather, the criticism that we—writers, journalist, CSOs, analysts—offer lacks substance. It is just noise—almost muttering of the drunks.
That is why even the Bible says having the courage to say you do not know the answer to a question is perhaps the beginning of wisdom.
I am a strong advocate of building a conscious public. I feel our democracy can deepen, or scams such as cashgate can be avoided if we have a critical public.
The reason is simple: criticism is the lifeblood of democracy, the fuel of freedom. But the problem is that over the years Malawi has built and continues to build more carpers than critics.
The fact that anybody can say anything does not mean that anything anybody says is worth hearing. There is a lot of garbage out there.
I am not, however, arguing for a limitation on what people should say. The beauty of democracy and the wonder of the digital public square is that more people can express themselves freely to more eyes and ears than at any other time in history.
Such liberation is to be celebrated, honoured and defended. But with power comes responsibility. We can learn that we can open our mouth when we think we should, but then have the courage to be constructive.