Hon. Folks, when UDF became the first party to form a government in the multiparty dispensation in 1994, three things also happened at the same time.
One, its presidential candidate, Bakili Muluzi, became the richest person in Malawi, giving “brown envelopes” to his local guests and throwing multi-million kwacha splurges at political rallies which, the cronies kept telling us, were from his pocket, not government coffers.
Two, Muluzi’s cronies—some of whom reeked of poverty prior to the 1994 elections—metamorphosed overnight into millionaires when the UDF formed government. Of course, you had to be yellow to be in top positions in government but it’s not a secret that even the president himself—the political Father Christmas who could dish as much as K10 million at a rally—earned no more than K1.5 million a month, albeit tax free.
Three, UDF itself became the richest party in the country, having offices in all parts of the country and virtually all its district governors driving branded party cars. The UDF was the only party with the financial muscle to contest for any political office in any part of the country. Opposition parties would only stake their meagre financial resources in polls where their prospect to win were high.
When Bingu wa Mutharika and his DPP dislodged Muluzi and his UDF from government, the political fortunes together with some UDF heavyweights also crossed to where Mutharika and his DPP pitched a tent.
Bingu, a man we saw driving a rickety vehicle in Lilongwe before he was brought into the Reserve Bank of Malawi by Muluzi shortly before the 2004 elections, was touted as a rich man, having amassed wealth while working for Comesa and other international bodies.
Ironically, what he declared on assuming office in 2004 were assets valued at K150 million, but the valuation of his estate after his sudden death due to cardiac arrest in April 2012, revealed that within the eight years he served as President, Bingu amassed assets worth K61 billion!
Then came Joyce Banda and her People’s Party (PP) which, prior to JB’s ascending to power, was so obscure that her enemies in DPP condescendingly referred to it as a mere “parallel structure.”
Yet under JB, PP branded vehicles were all over Malawi and DPP cronies started flocking to it even before the remains of Bingu were interred. The claim was that from her pocket, JB bought and distributed hundreds of cows, goats, bicycles, motor bikes and houses to Malawians across the country.
Interestingly, while Bingu’s declared wealth and the value of his estate at death was an open secret during JB’s tenure, her own assets and liabilities were a guarded secret.
You just had to see some of her cronies such as Osward Lutepo donating over 20 cars to PP to realise that the trend of harvesting massive wealth from political offices which characterised life under the Muluzi regime was still rife.
The question was: how in this poverty-stricken country do politicians make their massive wealth? How come that in the multiparty dispensation, politicians on the opposition side tend to languish with the rest of us in excruciating poverty?
The good that has come out of Cashgate is that now we know that politicians in government make their millions by looting public coffers. They use their gullible cronies in government and the private sector to do the actual looting and share the booty using the 60:40 ratios.
This may also explain why political parties in Malawi are owned by individuals. In case they win the elections, it’s the lucky individual who will cart home the 60 percent!
It’s now up to us, Malawians who pay tax and vote into office the wolves in sheep skin, to realise that it’s not in the interest of those voted into political offices to fight corruption. They will be biting the finger that feeds their greed! It’s up to us to do what we can to ensure every tambala of our tax money is used for the intended purporse. n