When President Joyce Banda told the nation 18 months ago that, unlike her predecessor the late Bingu wa Mutharika, she would forgo the extravagant comfort of private jet travel, a reserve for the rich and the famous, nobody raised a finger against the sale of the 14-seater presidential plane.
Here is a President who realises that this country is poor, after all, where in this day and age, some citizens still cannot afford very basic necessities such as salt or soap and vows never to fly in a symbol of her predecessor’s shameless extravagance at the expense of rampant poverty.
Here is a President who wants to save our taxes so that instead they should be used on social services such as equipping hospitals with drugs and other necessities.
Here is a President who wants to share in the frugality forced on Malawians as a result of the damage to an economy caused by one man’s intransigence, showmanship and cowboyism.
Fast-forward this to this day and everything has crumbled like a cookie pie and all that is left are tatters.
To say the sale of the presidential jet was botched is an example of an understatement. Actually, it was not a sale as we know it in today’s world as no modern legal tender was used but those behind it opted for an ancient way of doing it: Our national asset was bartered!
Malawians could have forgiven the barter if the PP government were transparent from the word go.
But what happened is different. The Malawian people were lied to shamelessly and consistently. Different ministers gave different versions, all hinging on the fact that money came and was used in myriad ways, including buying of drugs, funding Malawi Defence Force (MDF) excursions into the DRC as well as procuring maize for the needy.
But these things were never done and no single tambala went into Account Number One at the Reserve Bank.
Information Minister Brown Mpinganjira was the liar in chief and never mentioned barter in all what he said but, without shame, opted to stick to the version that money came and was used to buy drugs, maize and military equipment.
When everything is said and done, this scandal should teach Malawians one thing: Recycled politicians will never change. When everybody has realised that in today’s fast moving world you cannot hide information from well connected Malawians and the ever improving technology-aided-methods employed by the media in extracting information, the recycled politicians still think they can lie, bluff and cheat in broad daylight and still get away with it.
President Joyce Banda looks overwhelmed and at times lost. She herself admitted the other day that she does not know everything and relies on these same recycled ministers and officials who think they can cheat Malawians and get away with it.
It is now about 11 weeks before Malawians go to the polls. The President should examine the people she has surrounded herself with and see whether they are helping her cause or are making it easy for the opposition to pounce mercilessly and improve their own chances of forming the next government.
What was the problem in telling Malawians the whole truth right from the start? What was government afraid of and why? Why is it that the same company that got the jet was also flying the President in the same jet?
Why was a simple act of selling the jet which the President sold to the nation so well is now mired in a lot of shenanigans? Who started it all and what price will they pay? Will they be fired?
Unless the President answers these questions and is then straight with Malawians, her own chances of re-elections are greatly damaged and she will have no one to blame later when it happens.
By all standards this is not the way to dispose of a national asset. It was not transparent and certainly the PP government did not want to be accountable to the people of Malawi.
It is the sheer and resolute force of the people’s power and media that have forced it.