When Oswald Lutepo was jailed last week for 11 years for money laundering and conspiracy to defraud government, quite a substantial number of people celebrated. For some—the likes of Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) deputy director Reyneck Matemba—it was the triumph of justice, of good over evil and the culmination of months of painstaking work to bring down a criminal network that had bled government dry.
But even Matemba was simultaneously grudging and stoic in his acceptance of the sentence. He would have wished for a longer jail term, but he understood the limitations of the law. Besides, he acknowledged, rather ruefully, that irrespective of the severity of the sentence, it would never have fully compensated for the damage Lutepo’s actions had brought about.
For others, we are celebrating Lutepo’s naivety, embarrassment and just recompense for greed. Naivety in the sense that we now know, with the benefit of hindsight, Lutepo became the poster boy of corruption when he plunged headlong into a diabolic scheme that had one and only one outcome: jail.
Presented with the same opportunities that availed themselves before Lutepo, few of us would have spurned them. Maybe we would have stolen less, partly to disguise our greed. Maybe with the benefit of hindsight, we might have been smarter to disguise our transactions unlike Lutepo who left a paper trail as bright as a meteor on a dark sky. But, down to a man, we would have stolen. If we have Cashgates in churches—the so-called last bastion of morality—what more would you expect from a miserably paid civil servant? The fact of the matter is, in this farm called Malawi, there are so many Lutepos.
You should have to ask yourself, what has changed since Cashgate was unravelled? Nothing, really!
Wring our hands as much as we may in frustration or anguish, Malawi has not changed and there seems little likelihood of that happening any time soon.
Health facts have not changed. It is not as if people were not dying indiscriminately before Lutepo and his platoon started dipping his fingers into the national coffers. People did, and they continued way after the wheels of justice started moving on him. It was not Lutepo who was arrested just last week in Lilongwe for illegal possession of medical equipment and drugs in Ntchesi, Lilongwe.
Students still learn under trees—as they did before Lutepo’s arrest. Would the students have had better learning conditions had he not stolen the billions? Doubtful. Education has been comatose since, well, 1994. And Lutepo was not a person of means then.
If we were outraged by Lutepo and his kind, we should, by now have demanded of government to change. Yes, government is admittedly pursuing reform programmes, but the impact is too low and the implementation too slow.
Since Cashgate unravelled in 2013, the theft of public funds has continued unabated as if there is nothing that government is doing. As the media has reported in the recent past, government is still bleeding billions through manipulation of other systems apart from Ifmis. If Lutepo was the village head, his tribe is still alive prowling around and manipulating weakness in government systems. The same banks that could look the other way while Lutepo and his tribe greedily ate away at the national cake are still posting the same obscene profits.
No-one seems to have the balls to sanction them. The only comfort we can draw from that, at least, is we now know some of those profits are proceeds of crime and not the sweat off their brow for an honest day’s work. But that is just cold comfort.