Honourable Folks, talk about hitting the jackpot. A lawyer who handled the deceased estate of former president Bingu wa Mutharika on behalf of his family made a standard legal-fee claim for his services—five percent of the total value of the estate.
That standard rate made the lawyer an instant billionaire! He netted K3.5 billion or, put in a universal language, over seven million USD. Simply put, that one case netted the lawyer more money than his Malawian colleagues would ever make in a lifetime of hard work.
But the making of such huge fortune has been coincidental, really. A simple arithmetic shows that K3.5 billion, upheld by the Supreme Court, is five percent of K61 billion—the same colossal figure that was largely disputed when revealed by a valuation done by YWM Property Investment Company on behalf of government.
People thought the figure was more political than real, published to portray the former president as a self-serving leader who used his office to amass wealth for himself at the expense of poor Malawians.
Now that claims by people in the know are based on the same K61 billion –I am told government also wants its fair share of tax from the K61 billion—deceased estate, the question remains, how did Mutharika, who declared assets worth K150 million on assuming the office in 2010, amass so much wealth within the eight years he was in power?
As a taxpayer, I expect an answer from government. I know many others who, like me, suffer at-source deductions of up to 30 percent of their monthly pay as Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax plus 16.5 percent VAT (value added tax) imposed on most of the good services, would also like to hear from government where and how the late Mutharika made his wealth.
If the former president legitimately made his wealth within the years he was a tenant at the State House, then the chosen beneficiaries of his deceased estate have all the right to enjoy it.
On the other hand, if the wealth was fraudulently or corruptly made, taking advantage of the proximity of the presidency to public revenue and other resources or, if the office of State President was used for personal gains contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, then government will only be doing the right thing to take it back to its owners—Malawians.
Our woes are many. There’s a shortage of drugs in our hospitals, teachers and other civil servants don’t get paid in time, our roads have been so badly damaged by rain and generally, government has drastically reduced its operational budget which has in turn affected the delivery of public goods and services.
It may sound disrespectful to insinuate that a president, who our clergy tell us is chosen by God Almighty, can stoop so low as to steal from his or her own people. Indeed, I grew up to believe that leaders abide by the laws of the land at all times.
But post-colonial history of Africa shows clearly a disturbing trend of abused political power begetting economic power at the expense of national economic development. In the days of one-party dictatorship, when transparency and accountability weren’t stressed that much, presidents and their cronies would divert a substantial amount of tax and donor money into their pockets.
Some of the stolen funds were stashed in banks abroad or used to buy villas and other properties in foreign capitals when their own countries were reeling in abject poverty amid plenty resources, including oil, minerals, donor aid and, course, taxes.
The progress countries that have made Africa claim the 21st century are those where transparency and accountability are entrenched and which take pride in being result-oriented, always ensuring that that public funds are used effectively and efficiently to produce intended outcomes within set deadlines.
In multiparty Malawi, only Mutharika showed us we could feed ourselves and grow our economy by 7.5 percent and we thank him for that. Only Mutharika also showed us that economic gains of more than five years could vanish just like that, leaving us without drugs, fuel, forex, spare-parts and hope.
President Joyce Banda has often cited a 2011 audit that showed K92 billion disappeared under the Mutharika administration in what the PP-led government believes could be the origin of Cashgate. Did the former president sweat for K61 billion wealth he has left behind?
Only government can tell us what exactly happened.