f it looks like a duck, quakes like and walks like a duck, there is a good chance it’s a duck. All signs, at the moment, point to the fact that taxpayers’ money for fighting the Covid-19 pandemic has been abused; at least, a good chunk of it.
So much of what is being said by our government about what has happened, simply doesn’t make any sense.
First, the President came on television and told us how much government has spent, including the now controversial K6.2 billion for Covid-19 fight. Some of the expenditure lines and figures immediately aroused suspicion among right-thinking Malawians and demanded clarification.
How the President didn’t get suspicious altogether before presenting the facts, well, is something we all should worry about. But, let us say that the President trusted the figures by the technocrats. What has happened since, confirms that we have a rotten system that is bound to plunder public resources.
There is now no shred of doubt, what-so-ever, that some folks in government—those with access to the Covid-19 funds—have once again dinked their fingers to the kitty.
From the outset, some of their transactions didn’t make sense. We had figures such as K60 million spent by the clusters just to plan on response and another K50 million just to identify sites where isolation centres will be constructed.
A report by the Office of the Ombudsman, covering both the Peter Mutharika and Lazarus Chakwera administrations, already highlighted how various officials were abusing Covid-19 funds—putting in fake receipts and getting lunch allowances then also asking the government for the same.
The bottom line is, we should have been curious from the start. There were telltale signs. And then, we’ve a whole history to learn from.
By being transparent about how he is going to get to the bottom of the problem, the President deserves to be supported, but his decision to allow the folks in government allowance of more time to make up expenditure reports with wishful activities was misinformed.
The moment his first order for reports was ignored, tha was the time to seal Department of Disaster Management (Dodma) and send those who had not complied on leave so that no crooked official had time to doctor any information or document.
That was the time to send in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), Fiscal Police and National Audit Office (NAO). .
Now that the reports have been issued, regardless of how flawless they will look on paper, it is time for investigating agencies and auditors to hold vigils in these offices.
And it is also time for the country to rally behind the idea of clearing the rubble if clearing the rubble genuinely means getting rid of the corruption and wastage that has held this country hostage and in bondage for so long.
Usual politicking over this episode will yield nothing. But we must demand transparency and accountability for everyone, at the top and bottom. Contracts granted by the new administration must be scrutinised as much as possible with the same ferocity as that of its predecessor. When skeletons are found, regardless of who is involved, the full arm of the law must take course.
And questions must be asked about constitutional bodies which ought to take action but so far appear to be sleeping on the job..
Questions ought to be asked about the leadership of the civil service. Why hasn’t the Chief Secretary moved against officials implicated by the Ombudsman’s report and what has he done about the folks that have embarrassed the President by submitting their reports outside his deadline?
The bottom line is, while the bulk ends at the President and, indeed, we must make sure that Number One is accountable, everyone else must step and get counted. The President, at times, is only as good as the team that surrounds him and the principle of separation of power makes it so clear that he cannot be making every decision himself.
And, make no mistake, we know folks have played games of chicken with taxpayer’s money. Make no mistake, there ought to be punishment for it. Innocent lives; mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends have died because of that greed.
These are deaths we could have done something about. These are lives we could have given a fighting chance by ensuring adequate hospital supplies. Someone will have to pay for this, dearly.