Hon. Folks, Oswald Lutepo should consider himself lucky that after fleecing K4.7 billion of public funds through the infamous Cashgate, all he got in turn was an 11-year IHL sentence.
Yet, he has the temerity to play victim and publicly accuse government of heavy-handedness, arguing that he deserved a more lenient sentence. His reasons can only be mind-boggling.
Here is a leader of a sort–business captain who also happened to be an executive member of the ruling People’s party–trying to make us believe that looting K4.7 billion, an equivalent of nine percent of government’s monthly budget then, is a small matter deserving a lighter sentence. Really?
Lutepo and former assistant director of tourism Leonard Kalonga–another Cashgate convict–have greatly helped with valuable pointers to the political end-users of the Cashgate loot, for that we shall remain indebted to them.
It is their boldness which has made us see that former president Joyce Banda may not have been as innocent as she made us believe she was. The two alleged that the Cashgate loot ended up in her hands and she intended to use it for political campaign.
Wow! The ball is now in JB’s court. All along her argument was that she is innocent because her name doesn’t appear in the Baker Tilly forensic audit report. Another argument was that she was not involved in Cashgate. Rather she was involved in fighting Cashgate as was attested to by the fact that she is the one who instituted the probe into Cashgate.
But the turns and twists of the Cashgate trials show intrigues that can make one conclude that JB was either indeed innocent or trying to cover up her own tracks.
As State President, we entrusted her with sovereign authority. She introduced painful reforms, the success of which hinged on continued good economic and political governance and donor aid flows.
We saw our incomes deteriorate drastically in real value but we bit the lower lip, banking on her promise that there would be light at the end of the tunnel.
Yet, Cashgate wiped off the gains as donors withdrew budgetary support soon after pledging to hike their contribution to the budget from 30 to 40 percent. Some even went to the extent of telling government to simply forget that they would come back to support our recurrent budget!
Today, the kwacha is doing a head spin on slippery anti-hill and government is trying to survive by creatively taxing hard our poverty which is growing by the day. Now we have to face a water tariff hike of up to 45 percent at once!
Now that she is put on the spot, it is hard to believe her claim that it’s all political machinations by her rivals in DPP.
In fact, there is now the temptation to associate the opulence and extravagance that characterised her two-year term–flying to Manhattan, New York, with an ‘excess baggage’ of personal guests, building many houses for the poor across the country, distributing maize, cows and motor bikes at political rallies which were happening almost every week–with Cashgate.
Unless she can open up to scrutiny and show that she indeed had enough personal wealth to support her Oprah-like philanthropic lifestyle, and unless her innocence in Cashgate is established objectively either by an independent commission (not a mere forensic audit) or through the courts, Cashgate will remain a stain on her legacy.
Back to Lutepo. Here is a person who claims his companies were used as a “conduit” for converting government cheques into cash at 10 percent commission to himself. This means for the illicit K4.7 billion transactions which, it appears, were carried out between July and August 2013, he netted close to K500 million!
Any honest business person in our small economy knows that it takes discipline, perseverance and hard work over a much longer period than a month for a firm to start yielding this kind of profit.
If I may remind Lutepo, while he was busy fleecing government, his fellow Malawians were dying needlessly in hospitals as a consequence. Has he forgotten how Cashgate negatively impacted on health service delivery at Kamuzu Central Hospital?
Has he forgotten pictures of decomposed bodies dripping body fluid on stretchers as they were taken from malfunctioning cold-rooms of KCH mortuary for quick disposal in unmarked graves, leaving behind the putrid of Cashgate to haunt our memories?
If Lutepo had a conscience, what he should have told Malawians at the press conference he held before being slapped with an 11-year IHL sentence, is sorry.