If your family’s WhatsApp group admin is up to their job, you will have seen pictures of Amai and members of the People’s Party dancing and ululating in Mangochi as the leader outlined a vision for a presidential push in May 2019. According to Joyce Banda, the excellent job that she did is unfinished and deserves a second tilt. Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. Every Malawian has the right to campaign for the presidency. However, in Amai’s case, there is just the small matter of the elephant in the room: Cashgate.
Now, for all the goodwill that Joyce Banda enjoyed as Malawi’s first female Head of State, she also presided over one of the worst abuses of public resources Malawi has ever seen. The former president has often explained that Cashgate was long in gestation before she even made it to the top job. That may indeed be the case. But it is also correct that Cashgate came of age under her watch. Not only that, her party, the orange-clad People’s Party benefited directly from the Cashgate swindle. Oswald Lutepo, that convict who forever tainted the term “Malawi businessman”; was identified by the infamous Baker Tilly report as the primary beneficiary of that insidious scheme. That same Lutepo was the principal benefactor of her party, spending hundreds of millions on the People’s Party.
Joyce Banda has never explained satisfactorily why the party political fortunes of the erstwhile citizen number one were so inextricably linked with those of Cashgater number one. And perhaps she will never have to explain. The reason for this is simple: We Malawians tend to move on too quickly when it comes to demanding accountability. Initial interest in cases like these usually peters and those who do us harm continue their menace.
There have been a number of other blatant cases of improper conduct by key people in public office. Examples include the case involving the illegal collection of donations from parastatals to support the DPP through events dubbed Blue Night. One more example is the award of the Salima-Lilongwe water pipeline project in clear violation of the applicable environmental assessment rules. The final example is that of the President of the Republic receiving 145 million kwacha in an account for which he is sole signatory from persons who have been involved in dubious contracting with Government. What is common about all these cases is the silence that follows the initial discovery that these things are happening. Having excited the public’s ire, all of these cases have been quickly forgotten by the public as the news cycle has moved on or the associated criminal or civil cases have dragged on.
Public officers involved in these schemes have quickly realised that people’s attention in relation to these instances of plunder is quite short-lived. Consequently, their strategy that has been adopted in all these cases has been keeping silent and waiting for the news cycle to move on. One case that exemplifies this strategy so well is that of the 145 million and the President. For a long period, the President never said a word and even when he did, he did not address the issue of the propriety of his operating a sole signatory account for the purpose of receiving donations. As the news cycle has moved on, the only people interested in the case are those that are following closely the legal moves by civil society organisations. Following this blueprint, Joyce Banda is well advised to sidestep her relationship to Lutepo too in the hope that it will blow away soon enough.
The challenge for us as a nation is how to ensure that these examples of misrule are kept in the public eye and are not swept under the carpet as is the case currently. As the electoral cycle gets into full swing, some of those that have done us harm will seek your vote. Remember what they did; whether it was 145, Cashgate or dollars under pillows. When you cast that vote, make sure that you keep them honest regardless of what political party they belong to. It is the only option we have.
*The author is from Bangwe and sometimes teaches law.