A post circulating on social media platforms alleges that one agro-dealing company engaged to sell the heavily subsidised affordable farm inputs is busy reaping where it did not sow. Precisely the post alleges that a suspicious citizen forced the company staff to weigh the fertiliser bags that were being sold out in the depot. Instead of weighing 50 kilogrammes (kgs), the re-weighed bags were 36, 37, 40, or 42 kgs. This means, just out of these four bags, 45 kgs of fertiliser had been stolen. Now multiply that by the number of bags this company alone is handling. Then multiply the answer by the number of thieving agro-dealers handling the affordable inputs country.
Some commentators have alleged that sometimes the bags are loaded with sand and other non-fertiliser substances.
What this active citizen found, if correct, could be a mere tip of a sunken ship. If you take time to weigh bags of cement labelled 50 kg, you will be shocked. If you take time to weigh salt and sugar packs labelled 1 kg you will weep. If you take time to measure milk labelled 500 millilitres or 1 litre you will faint. If you asked minibus drivers why they buy fuel into jerry cans, you will understand why no filling station should be trusted. If you ask Internet users who buy 4 gigabyte (GB) data bundles which runs out within an hour you will understand that average Malawians are being robbed by unscrupulous trader every day.
The practice is worse in grocery shops where salt, sugar and other products are opened, sometimes in broad daylight, contents spooned or drained out, and packs resealed using candle flames. Even match sticks are emptied from their box before they are sold to unsuspecting buyers. Next time you see a candle flame in grocery shop, pretend you don’t bother and you will see what we mean for yourself.
Why are such malpractices going on unchecked? Government used to have price and goods inspectors. Weighing scales were regularly inspected. Business persons knew that once caught they would be in big Kamuzu trouble, which for foreigners, included deportation for stealing from Malawians. If Kamuzu were around, the unscrupulous company robbing Malawians of their subsidised fertilisers would have already faced stern action including revocation its trade license and possible imprisonment of staff involved in the malpractice.
But Kamuzu has been 23 years dead. And the dead don’t bite. And Malawi has been 26 years in multiparty electoral democracy where a culture of unbridled capitalism has been let loose; where price inspections have disappeared; when robbery has been normalised; when government is not feared; when katangale, Cashgate, Tractorgate, Maizegate I and II, and other gates have become part of Malawi’s normal story; where the nouveaux rich cannot explain how they got their wealth but are still tolerated and admired for their ingenuity.
Parliament has shirked its oversight role. The Competition and Fair Trading Commission has forgotten its mandate. Police officers think they are all there to argue with and apprehend minibus drivers. Our faith leaders are more interested in tithe taking. The civil society thinks only politicians are involved in corruption. Chiefs? Well, ask Wambali Mkandawire.
When institutions charged with ensuring that the citizens get the best services from their government, traders and others, citizens must rise up and fight for themselves. This is what Ask Lucius Banda sings about in Life. Prof. Dr Joyce Befu, MEGA-1, our indefatigable leader of delegation says time for that fight is now. Now is the time for active citizenship. Only when citizens speak out consistently do politicians listen and can the rot at the agrodealers stop.
From today, weigh or measure everything you buy. Don’t bother reporting what you find to the police or the anticorruption bureau. Expose the rot on social media. Research has consistently indicated that exposing and publicly shaming wrongdoers is not only cathartic to exposer, but also achieves desired behaviour change in wrongdoers.