It is common knowledge that the Malawi–Zambia Maizegate has triggered a lot of public debate in the country. The debate ranges from lessons learnt to exposure of government weaknesses in the procedures for procuring supplies from outside the country.
To start with, it is due to the Maizegate that for the first time in the history of Malawi’s democracy, a high court injunction has been issued to suspend a Cabinet minister while a matter is being investigated. In Malawi it is unheard of for a Cabinet minister or a head of an organisation to be suspended because of queries which portray their leadership weaknesses. It is this defiance which forced some civil society organisations (CSOs) and activist Charles Kajoloweka to seek an injunction at Mzuzu High Court which was given to George Chaponda as Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. As it were, Chaponda’s ministry was directly involved in the procurement of maize from Zambia. Before it happened to Chaponda, suspending a Cabinet minister was impossible. This is more so because ministers are appointed by the State President and, therefore, it is assumed that only him can hire, fire and suspend as the case may be. Anyone else would be seen as violating presidential prerogative.
The fact that there is no recall provision in the Malawi Constitution, members of Parliament (MPs), including ministers, feel that they will always be in the comfort zone and be protected. Without doubt, some even forget a simple fact that no one is above the law. With all due respect, the injunction on Chaponda is a lesson to other leaders who ignore public pressure to resign from their positions for one reason or another, especially when their presence would jeopardise some investigations. Had Chaponda resigned, he would have set a good example for others to follow.
Malawians must also have learnt from the Maizegate that presidential prerogatives for appointing people are not engraved in stone and, therefore, permanent. Leaders in Malawi must be very careful when conducting their duties. They should always strive to be exemplary so that people at large can use them as reference points. Failing which, they will lose integrity and respect.
Meanwhile, and more importantly, Maizegate has revealed how flimsy the laws and procedures for procuring products from outside are. So far, the procedures seem not binding. Listening to interviews by the parliamentary committee on Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) of various stakeholders, one gets a feeling that no one seems to know the procedures. Clear examples are the contradictions between the Ministry of Agriculture, Admarc and their Zambian counterparts. Ordering maize from Zambia or any other country should be a straightforward business. But why Malawi involved so many players is anybody’s guess. The picture one gets is that the people involved in the Maizegate seemed to be striking deals first and looking at formalities later. This is what corruption is all about.
All the people who were entrusted with the job of procuring maize from Zambia were leaders and senior officers. What is mindboggling is that if such people have no idea about the right procedure then who should know?
In fact, it is not easy to come across an exemplary leader in Malawi. All this is because of corruption which knows no boundary. Most leaders whom Malawians look up to are pre-occupied with scrutinising government deals by checking what is there for them. In the process procedures end up being distorted. During Kamuzu Banda’s era, leaders were exemplary since he could not tolerate any form of corruption. Nowadays leaders no longer care about being exemplary; hence all manner of corruption is the order of the day. n