Hon Folks, once-upon-a-time when Bakili Muluzi was President, something akin to Cashgate happened which the media dubbed K187 million education scam.
The swindlers were a network of contractors and folks in government who facilitated payment even before a brick was laid.
When the cat was let out of the bag, prosecution started then rumbled on for years, culprits and key witnesses dying in the process, and eventually, it was abandoned, not concluded. Moreover, none of the culprits on the government side—not even any of those who facilitated the illegal payments—were held to account. Impunity scooped to a gem-like point!
Fast-forward to 2013 Cashgate: a UK audit firm, Baker Tilly, does a forensic audit for a six-month period after civil servants are caught with millions of kwacha stashed in car boots or dolls. Finding? K24 billion gone down the cistern!
Donors, suspecting the malfeasance to be the story of our multiparty democracy, decide to fund an audit for the period 2009 -14.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and other international auditors take up the probe. Findings? K236 billion gone down the drain! That translates into losing K4 billion a month on average, which is more than the total allocated to ACB, MHRC and Ombudsman in the 2016 National Budget!
But the latter audit also exposed something important—rampant corruption prevalent when Bingu wa Mutharika, APM’s brother, was in power.
When Baker Tilly’s forensic audit, looking only at what was happening between April to September, 2013—a quarter of the period when JB was in government–established massive fraud, it was music to APM and his cronies.
They ensured Cashgate was about JB, her mediocrity, a testament to their claim that she was a misfit for presidency. Donor decision to stop giving budgetary support, which amounted to 40 percent of the recurrent budget, brought instant suffering and deprivation.
When election time finally came, JB failed to secure even the second position despite distributing houses, motor bikes, dairy cows, goats, flour, cloth and many other freebies countrywide, and despite elevating many chiefs—over 200 by some estimates. People were angry with her!
But now that APM is in power, is Cashgate history? Government says it has improved the Public Finance Management system, but donors are still sceptical and aid often comes through off-budget channels.
With reports on all the drama in embassies, Parliament, Escom, Mera, district councils, NAC, MEC and ACB itself, centred on corruption or efforts to cover it up, it’s unlikely that public perception of corruption now is any better than when APM’s predecessors in government.
They all display the familiar tendency—quick at persecuting the corrupt in the other camp while shielding the rot in their own camp, decisions based not on the letter and spirit of the law but on what’s-in-it-for-me and my party.
Which makes me wonder, could there be a connection between the loot during the Bingu era and the alleged K62 billion assets he had amassed during the eight years he was in government? This is a story for another day, isn’t it? Right now the politically correct thing is to assume there’s nothing like K62 billion deceased estate worth probing, right?
But will government at least be kind enough to go after the civil servants who betrayed our trust and facilitated or benefited from Cashgate when Bingu was at the helm? Or are they being shielded for fear that they just might expose more skeletons in the cupboard?
Unless the corrupt in government are held to account for their crime, and some of the public funds they embezzled recovered from the sale of their assets, what started as education scam, evolving years later into Cashgate, is likely to metamorphose into more horrendous monster to haunt the future of our country. n