Honourable Folks, selling the incumbent President, Joyce Banda, as presidential candidate for People’s Party (PP) in the forthcoming elections may prove a challenge for her spindoctors. Should she lose on May 20, it would partly be for the reason that her government seems to take the trust of the electorate for granted.
Elections are coming at a time when the forensic audit has established that K13 billion disappeared from the public kitty on her watch between April and September last year. The question is how much more has been looted in the entire two years she has been in power?
The defence for this failure in stewardship has always been that the looting of Cashgate proportions started during the era of late president Bingu wa Mutharika. During a press conference the President held on Tuesday, she repeated her claim that a government audit in 2010 showed that K92 billion had been misused.
Not a surprise, I’d say for it has also been alleged that Mutharika himself had amassed wealth to the tune of K61 billion within the eight years he was in government. He declared assets of K150 million only when he assumed power. Either, part of the loot went into his pocket or he allowed others to help themselves at our expense just because they, too, kept their mouths shut when he was stashing his offshore accounts with foreign exchange while the country had no forex, no fuel, no drugs and no hope.
But Mutharika died on April 5 2012 and while there’s no denying that the Mutharika period needs to be probed and let the law take its course in case there are other culprits, the question marks we may have on his wealth may equally apply on President Banda.
Is she totally innocent? Has she benefitted in any way from the looting? These and other related questions people may have, are legitimate, especially now that Cashgate has led to drastic cuts in budgetary allocations to various ministries, resulting in reduced provision of public goods and services.
Painful memories are still fresh of decomposed bodies of our brothers and sisters taken out of Kamuzu Central Hospital for quick and unceremonious burial by folks who had to cover their noses and try to minimise the stench of dripping body fluid with air freshener.
Hospitals have a shortage of drugs, police often have to do their patrols on foot, roads are badly damaged even in the cities, some teachers are yet to be paid their February salaries. Fuel prices are going up virtually monthly partly due to the impact of internal economic pressures on the kwacha. Donors who encouraged us to devalue and float our currency walked out on us the moment they heard about Cashgate.
These are human rights issues. Cashgate isn’t just an economic or political issue. It is a human rights issue. Yet, for this raw deal we‘re getting, government is still collecting as much as 30 percent Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax monthly plus a 17percent value added tax (VAT) from us. If donors maintain their stand, government is likely to demand more while delivering less and less public goods and services.
People have the right to be angry. But so, too, is the business community. A week ago, we read in the newspapers an angry press statement the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, stressing that the private sector, which contributes the highest to government revenue, was neither impressed with government stewardship of public revenue nor how the revenue in the public kitty was prioritised.
The sentiments were also echoed in a communiqué PAC (the Public Affairs Committee) issued at the end of an inclusive indaba held in Blantyre to take stock of issues affecting Malawi.
Anyone doing image-sprucing for the President should, therefore, know it’s not a favour, but a necessity for the electorate to go to the polling station with a positive image of the PP candidate. Yet, what they do so far is the same arrogant denial of the truth.
The demand for the President and the Vice-President to disclose their assets as declared to or simply deposited with the Speaker was recently responded to with claims that Joyce Banda started doing business when she was 25 blah, blah, blah.
Why not pull a winner on transparency and accountability and, in the same breath, push the PP candidate above the Cashgate cloud in the eyes of the voting public by simply advising the President to make public what she declared as Vice-President and as President?
The asset declaration provision has always been in the Constitution and its enabling law has just been enacted. What’s remaining now is for the same people in government to set up the Office of the Director of Public Declarations. Encouraging the President to make public what she already declared won’t necessarily be illegal, will it?
If anything, it’ll prove she has nothing to hide and this will definitely encourage the doubting Thomases to see her differently from her immediate predecessor.