The message has been made loud and clear, several times. The British government will not bankroll anything requiring external assistance, whether institutional support or direct development financing except through ‘government bypass’, courtesy of tested capacities of civil society and development charities.
For Malawi to get aid flowing again, at least from the British people, the President and his Cabinet just have to meet the benchmarks expected by not just donors but by the exploited people of Malawi too. Emotions and expectations are running high.
The recent government effort to dialogue with the British government through its representative on the resumption of aid is at most rare gallantry, at worst a miscalculation. It was an ideal move to touch base, check progress and plot the way forward, not to re-open the flow of support. It’s not time yet!
To claim that benchmarks set for the release of support have been met is an exaggeration of fact, a presumptive move that only flashes the embarrassment of the nation, and an underestimation of the determination to stay the course of both development partners and citizens to rid Malawi of all forms of corruption.
According to Foreign Affairs Minister George Chaponda, Malawi has achieved the basic benchmarks, first in that public sector and finance management reforms are underway. The reality is that no systemic nor management protocols have been instituted for donors to risk exposing to abuse priceless resources that poor Malawians will need in future.
Public reform and systems review take time. Yet given the bitter isolation of the country, government must show urgency, cut the political carnival now emerging and focus on the business of re-positioning Malawi. There are far too many bad eggs still in the system, some of them freshly appointed, to suggest that a new system is being developed that is ready to arrest theft and executive immorality.
Second, Chaponda says Malawi is pursuing and I would add prosecuting, Cashgate suspects. This is appreciated. But how many have been convicted in the six months? What level and status are those processed given the likelihood that operation Cashgate was commandeered from the top? Why are people and organisations which common logic faults not part of the profile of suspects?
The administration must realise that its handling of Cashgate is a major test. It will show determination to truly change Malawi and will define not just what becomes of Malawi as a society and an economy; it will further be the ultimate measure of survival for the party in government. Take it or leave it, Cashgate is a make or break assignment for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Third, reference is made to government guarantee of the independence of the Judiciary and justice system. Nothing can be claimed in this area. How can government claim judicial independence when the most recent national integrity study links political leaders to direct interference with the course of law?
Presidential powers to appoint the chief justice, judges, heads of regulatory and accountability bodies, heads of statutory organisations are still in place. How can politicians deny tampering with the judicial system and public sector when its senior staffs are at their mercy? That the Judiciary acts and behaves independently is more a reflection of the quality of its leadership, never of separation of powers!
It would serve Malawi well if donors provided resources to drive reforms. Yes, but what is the guarantee that the money won’t fall into abuse if systems are still in a state of convenient flux? What might have started as a war against corruption has graduated into a crisis of confidence in Malawi’s leadership; into widespread disbelief about Malawi’s determination to change values around uMunthu, integrity and social justice.
The bottom line is that Malawi must demonstrate commitment at the highest levels. Leaders must show tangible results and be prepared to declare evidence of what is done and how things will work, not just to donors’ satisfaction, but to that of the Malawian people too.
My last word: Mr President I believe that you came for times such as these; to be a steward of demonstrable change. You will either transform Malawi for the better or you will preside over its final collapse.