When President Lazarus Chakwera this week ordered Covid-19 clusters who received part of the K6.2 billion for the Covid-19 fight to account for the same to the Presidential Task Force within 48 hours, my gut feeling was that we had heard such talk before.
Chakwera’s directive came on the back of a statement he made on January 18 where he reported to the Malawi nation how a whopping K6.2 billion Treasury released last August had been used. Apparently the chief executive officer of the land was made to read a wrong script on the K6.2 billion expenditure.
Fast forward. Several other institutions including the immediate past ruling party the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) have since weighed in on the matter asking for accountability on the money. But my main interest is on the order by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Steven Kayuni who has gone a step further ordering police to start criminal investigations against the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) and Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) over management of the Covid-19 funds. Unfortunately all this hullaballoo about the K6.2 billion has a déjà vu aura around it. We have been here before.
Billions of tax-payers’ money is swindled. Suspects are hastily arrested and charged. Once given bail, anger seems to dissipate and things start moving at a snail’s pace. Trial drags for years and eventually the prosecuting agency drops the campaign altogether and the suspects walk back to freedom.
This is why and how the country’s former president Bakili Muluzi is still answering the K1.7 billion corruption case 17 years after the State charged him for the same. The long time it has taken to conclude the case is enough evidence that the State is failing to pin down Muluzi for his alleged wrongdoing. No wonder we now hear organisations that are supposed to fight for rule of law such as the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) calling for the case to be quashed.
Several prosecutable cases involving lots of taxpayers’ money have died a natural death or are on their way to being forgotten. In one or two cases, people are prosecuted and convicted but the money lost is never recovered.
Take, for example, the Tractorgate case. Government took a loan for $50 million for a good cause—the Greenbelt Initiative. The tractors and other farm implements were procured. But instead of putting them to the use they were purchased for they are sold to a few lucky people with connections to the corridors of power. The taxpayer is swindled.
Then there is the 2017 K26 billion Maize gate scandal. The Government of Malawi buys 100 000 metric tones (MT) of maize from Zambia and pays billions for it. Procedures are flouted suggesting corruption. In the end only 4 500 MT of maize is imported. The key people charged with corruption are acquitted. Some even threaten to sue the Malawi Government for wrongful arrest and detention. The question is: It is now four years and counting since the scandal happened; has the Malawi Government recovered all or any of the money it paid to the Zambian firms and their middle men for the maize which did not come to Malawi?
A year later, Pioneer Investments (PI) wins a K2.3 billion tender to supply food rations to the Malawi Police Service. A few months down the line, the contract sum is inflated to K2.7 billion. Soon after the contract is signed the owner of PI Zameer Karim deposits K145 million into the DPP’s bank account whose sole signatory is the party’s president Peter Mutharika. Karim is charged of theft of public money alongside two other police officers. The same Karim had earlier in the year donated five vehicles worth $115 000 to Mutharika. Later ACB discontinues investigations. Mutharika is cleared in the case. Where does Karim stand in the case now? Is this not evident enough that this case is now dead despite all the evidence that corruption took place?
Another case. In 2018 the Government of Malawi awards a South African firm Paramount Holdings Ltd a tender to supply 74 ambulances to the Ministry of Health. Exit DPP, and enter Tonse Alliance. In 2020, Government advertises a tender for supply of 35 basic ambulances. Paramount Holdings Ltd is among the bidders. One would hope the firm would be given the contract on the strength of its previous business with Government. But it is not. Instead it is Zambia-based Grandview International which wins the tender. Paramount Holdings Ltd misses the business allegedly for not meeting some technical specifications. If the same firm met such technical specifications for a bigger contract earleir, how come it fails on a much smaller one? No one wants to look back and investigate what exactly could have happened.
Now the K6.2 billion for the Covid-19 fight. I will be very surprised should the DPP’s order yield anything positive. What should give us hope and confidence that those who will be found on the wrong side of the law will be arraigned and made to pay for their malfeasance? Government’s record on punishing corrupt acts is far from inspiring.