Most Malawians are too young to know and remember what Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda inherited at the State house when he became Prime Minister in 1963 and President in 1964. Most of us don’t know what he took with him and what he left behind as belonging to the state when he was leaving State house. He must have declared. But we don’t know what is contained in the declaration.
Although nearly half of Malawians living today were there when Elesoni Bakili Muluzi was getting into State house in 1994 and when he was getting out in 2004, nobody knows what he took with him from there. Rumours, just stupid rumours and stupid allegations were rife that a lot of branded cutlery, cats, wildlife such as kudus and antelopes, and other paraphernalia got ‘personalized’ from State house. Foolish rumours. Nothing serious.
Likewise, we don’t know what Dr Bingu wa Mutharika and his family took to State house in 2004 and what they left behind when our beloved shoot-to-kill president died suddenly in April 2012. Rumours, stupid rumours, say that a lot gold plating that adorned the new State house, now Kamuzu Palace, was taken away as people scrambled to get and hide whatever they could before their jobs expired. Foolish rumours. Nothing serious.
Do you know what Joyce Banda took into State house in 2012 and took therefrom in 2014? We don’t know.
Do you know what Professor Peter Arthur Mutharika took with him into State house in 2014? We don’t know either. Do you know what he and his family took away to his private residence in Mangochi in those 10 huge trucks? We don’t know? Some of us thought he had carried with him his K5 billion cement to finish his residence. But the president-emeritus says he did not know anything about the said cement. And we believe him because he is a gentleman and an elderly statesman. Gentle statesmen don’t steal. Do they?
Know you what Dr Lazarus Chakwera has taken into statehouse? We don’t know. We can excuse Kamuzu Banda and Bakili Muluzi because they were not obliged by law to declare their assets, liabilities and businesses.
Do you know what your director, district commissioner, etc found in the office or brought into the office? MBC directors are not the only ones to personalise public property, including official vehicles. Look around you. Now.
Luckily for Malawi, in 2013, Parliament passed a law, the Public Officers Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests. According to Schedule II of this law 49 categories of public officers need to periodically declare their assets, liabilities and businesses. The public officers include the State President, Vice-President, the Speaker and deputy Speakers of the National Assembly, Cabinet ministers, MPs, mayors, councilors, judges, directors, vice chancellors and registrars of public universities. Disappointingly, imams, priests, CSO, and NGO leaders do not appear as public officers. They should because they subsist on the sweat of the local and international public. Faith leaders must be accountable to their herds.
We have little doubt that all the officers listed in the schedule have over the years complied with the law. But have audits been conducted to prove that they can account for what they gained during their tenure of office?
The law, in Section 17, says the information about the declaration the listed public officers deposit with the office of the Director of the Office of Public Officers’ Declarations“ shall be treated as public information and maybe accessible to the public upon application to the director” who may refuse that access and give reasons in writing within 14 days.
This is where we find the whole process of asset declarations cosmetic and tokenistic. Public information must be made public and accessible at any time of the day by anyone.
Otherwise, of what use is the public officers asset declaration information if it is not readily available to the public for groundtruthing?