DUMBANI MZALE caught up with DESMOND BIKOKO, councillor for Chigoneka Ward in Lilongwe, who recently reported some directors and senior managers at Lilongwe City Council to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) for sharing illegal allowances. Excerpts:
The country seems to be in a “hangover” mode from last year’s controversial Tripartite Elections and we seem to have not yet settled and moved on. Because of that, there are a number different camps, each with its own views on how to move the country forward. There are a lot of views being expressed on such matters as federal system of government, security lapses, the weakening kwacha and Cashgate trials. However, there is no platform for a serious discussion of all these views.
Where is the country getting it wrong in terms of politics?
There is a lack of ideologies among political parties in Malawi and this is a norm in many other African countries. Political parties claim to represent the interest of the people and want to do what is best for the country and its people. But the question still remains: How do they differ and what are their core ideologies besides election year platforms to build roads, provide electricity, fight corruption, etc? There is little to no difference among the various political parties in the country and it is for this reason that we continuously see politicians crossing the floor. Everyone wants to be aligned to the ruling party. The foundation of a political party should be its ideology; the values, and ideas that form the basis of its social, economic, or political philosophy, instead of mere presentation of election year platforms.
Corruption seems to be eating into a good chunk of public funds and the perception is that politicians are busy amassing wealth. What is your take on this?
Corruption is crippling development and unless we have serious political commitment to tackle it, I am afraid to say, it will continue to have disastrous results on the nation. The problem with politicians in Malawi is that they look at politics not as a service to the nation but rather as a passport to riches. Once elected, the focus is no longer serving but amassing at the expense of the people who elected them. One of the greatest impacts of corruption normally arises out of the choices and priorities of governments. This occurs when the development priorities of a country are often neglected in favour of those that generate the greatest personal gains for the decision makers. Here, it is clearly evident that many projects have become white elephants and easy route for personal enrichment.
What is your assessment of the current administration, one year after elections?
The administration has not lived up to its campaign promises. Malawi is facing serious challenges of low infrastructure, low energy capacity of electricity, shortage of medicine in public hospitals, poverty, youth unemployment and serious security lapses. These are issues that are happening when donors have withheld budgetary support due to years of plunder of the public purse. Now, we all should be lobbying the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to improve, and provide policy frameworks on how to go about addressing these daunting challenges. We need to start finding Malawian solutions to Malawian problems. As patriots, we also need to start offering solutions to the government without necessary defecting from our political bases and we need our government to be a listening one.
As councillor for Chigoneka Ward, how are you relating with the people who voted for you?
The people of Chigoneka Ward want improved service delivery and improved infrastructure now that they have a councillor and I understand them. However, I have not fully lived up to people’s expectations and service delivery has been very slow in coming. The problem with service delivery has several variables. First, we have a council that does not have adequate resources to deliver; secondly, there is serious incompetence issue by senior members of the secretariat and theft and abuse of council resources. You see, as councillors, we are collectively the ultimate policy-makers and carry out a number of strategic and corporate management function. However, implementation is left with secretariat and that is where we have challenges. However, as a leader, I understand my role is to find solutions and not make excuses. It is for that reason that I have taken the battle directly to the secretariat. Those members of the secretariat that have no interest to deliver services will have to go. Those who want to continue stealing will face the long arm of the law. I am committed to ensuring that we put our house in order and have Chigoneka Ward, and Lilongwe, for that matter, a better city.
What are your political ambitions or how do you see your political future?
From a young age I have always wanted to be a public servant. That was the reason I returned from the United States where I spent almost 20 years. I am a patriot and I love my country. I am also very optimistic that Malawi can transform if politicians start being more patriotic. My future plans are to run as an MP and if God blesses me with a long life, I don’t rule out the presidency at some point. But, my motivation to run is to make a difference and leave Malawi a better country than I found it. I am passionate about quality education as well as reducing youth employment in Malawi and that will be my platform for as long as I am a politician.