In a communication to Vice-President Saulos Chilima, Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Zangazanga Chikhosi and heads of public institutions Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe says between 2018 and 2020 poorly-drafted contracts and unlawful dismissals cost government K29 billion.
Silungwe, Malawi’s principal law officer, painted that grim picture of how the government coffers are depleted of resources due to breach of contracts. Usually, politics is at the bottom of such breaches.
Whenever there is a change in government, there are cancellations of contracts, massive redeployment and even arrests before investigations are thorough enough to put up a proper case. At the end of the day, it is the taxpayer who digs deep into their pockets to compensate the misdeeds of fallen regimes.
As AG, Silungwe advises President Lazarus Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance administration on legal matters while at the same time taking up litigation on behalf of the government. His advice, that he must be involved in the drafting of the contracts to save public funds, can only be overlooked at our own peril.
Not so long ago, the courts ruled that Malawians will have to pay K7 billion to Chilima and Chakwera’s lawyers in the Constitutional Court matter where the two were challenging the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declaration of Peter Mutharika as winner at the presidential polls in 2019. This hefty sum could have been avoided if the AG at the time, Kalekeni Kaphale gave MEC and the then care-taker president sound legal advice on the merits and demerits of the case and, very much sadly, appealing to the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
It is a fact that Silungwe’s advise may not be taken well by those who feel all blue-eyed boys in some posts within the civil service should be de-robed. Those of that view are not entirely wrong as they may throw spanners in the works of draining the swamp and clearing the rubble. But then, should that be at the expense of the proper use the funds could have been used if not lost through compensations that could have been avoided?
As adviser to the government, Silungwe has the great responsibility of giving sound advice, not telling the leaders what they want to hear and caress their egos. We have seen how some AGs have put on political coats to make legal decisions that have cost us dearly.
The approach Chilima, as Minister Responsible for Economic Planning and Development and Public Sector, is taking is the direction we must all go. Instead of shifting around blue-eyed boys willy-nilly, he is mounting pressure on them that they have to prove their mettle, if they are to win back Malawians’ trust. It is only recently that we have seen him telling the state produce buyer, Admarc, which is in perpertual debts they would not be given a bail-out. In the same vein, he took to task officials at Escom and other parastatals.
This is the direction that must be upheld as it is also in the spirit of Chakwera’s inaugural speech that the Tonse Alliance will work with even those that didn’t want it in power. What one would expect to see now is how the two will make depoliticisation of statutory corporations and government institutions a reality, without draining funds that could have better been used to buy medicines in the hospitals or build schools for our children.
It is a given fact that there are so many people waiting to occupy positions held by perceived cadets. There are so many Tonse Alliance supporters on the sidelines waiting to get contracts to supply goods and services to the government when DPP sympathizers’ contracts are cancelled.
When the People’s Party (PP) came to power, after the 2012 death of DPP leader Bingu wa Mutharika, it terminated a contract with one of the party’s henchmen, Leston Mulli. In that case, the businessman was challenging government decision to cancel a contract he won through a bid to supply fertilizer to the Ministry of Agriculture. In the end, Mulli was awarded a K1 billion for loss of business and breach of contract.
It is painful to hear stories like that former Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) director general Charles Nsaliwa was awarded over K500 million because he challenged his secondment to a government ministry. Such compensation could not have been paid if government took a little bit more care in looking at the bigger picture of such a secondment.
Examples abound on this siphoning of the public funds through these compensations. Politics is at the core of all this.