Three weeks ago, social media was alive with the sound of fury against the Presidency. A leaked report from one of our governance institutions, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, had established that our President, Peter Mutharika, had benefitted from the proceeds of a massive fraud at the Malawi Police Service. What was astonishing was that the President did not deny receiving the K145 million that was quoted in the report. Not even once. Rather his defence, delivered through a succession of surrogates, was that he did not personally benefit and, therefore, he had nothing to account. The money, we were asked to believe, was for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Oddly enough, shortly after the scandal broke, the President put himself forward as the presidential candidate for the DPP for next year’s presidential election. He stood unopposed and the convention delegates ushered him through. There was not a single minute spent to address what was obviously the biggest issue of the day: the role of the DPP’s top candidate in a worrisome multimillion transaction that reportedly had benefitted the DPP itself. One would be justified in concluding that either the DPP does not care about the fight against corruption or that it is actually complicit. How else does one explain the total embrace of a candidate implicated so completely in such a transaction?
As the days have turned into weeks, defence has been turned into attack. The credibility of the investigation that gave us the infamous report has been questioned. Queries have been raised regarding how a confidential ACB report ended up in our WhatsApp groups. Official government spokespeople have variously attempted to label the reporting of facts “fake news”; often a familiar refrain of those who seek to bury the truth. Varnishing a statement of facts from the ACB with a favourite phrase from Donald Trump just shows how callous and out of touch our government has become. Mercenary lawyers, local and foreign, have lined up to discredit the ACB and its officers but not once has anyone, including the President attempted to deny handling the money.
This episode compromises the Presidency in more ways than one. Firstly, our Constitution stipulates that the authority to exercise power of State is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people of Malawi and that trust can only be maintained through open, accountable and transparent government. How can the Presidency, as a fundamental institution of the Republic, still claim sustained trust when it is at the centre of deals like these? How can our President claim open, accountable and transparent governance when he has not even once bothered to address a serious issue such as this?
Secondly, it is a well-known fact that our nation is fighting an epic battle against corruption and wanton plunder of public resources. If this is what we should expect from the highest office in the land, what hope do we have from the rest of our public officers? Even if the deal between Pioneer Invetsments and the Malawi Police Service was above board, and the ACB has clearly indicated that it is not; is it proper for a serving Head of State to be receiving such extraordinarily large amounts of money into an account, he is sole signatory? Of course, the answer is probably not. My President ought to know better. He is a lawyer and understands very well the legal and moral requirements of the office.
Finally and more importantly, the Presidency ought to represent much more than the ambitions of the party in power. It should project what is good about our nation and demonstrate fidelity to the principles of our Constitution. In particular, the principle of accountable and transparent government ought to permeate the actions of the President. By receiving the proceeds of a dubious transaction; offering no explanation on how these funds arrived in his personal account and refusing to return the funds to the public purse; President Mutharika has diminished the Presidency.
Many citizens will quite rightly feel very despondent at the state of our nation; many more will feel quite powerless to demand accountability from the President. But I urge you not to give up. This after all is our country, our birthright. Since the President and the DPP will not do the right thing and pay back these funds, it is incumbent upon citizens to make sure that this happens. Don’t just get angry, do something! Write the President and demand that he returns these funds. If he does not respond, write again. Next time you go and visit the cousins in the villages, tell them of the story of the K145 million and explain how actions like these mean that there are no medicines in our hospitals; explain how this means that our children have no schools; explain how this means that the majority of Malawians remain in perpetual poverty. Since the President won’t do it, explaining the K145 million is now a job for us all. n
*The author is from Bangwe and sometimes teaches law.