Six vehicles belonging to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) went on auction this week after the poll body failed to pay three suppliers of goods and services a combined K90 million that had remained outstanding for too long, at least in the opinions of the companies that sought court relief.
MEC’s pleas with the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development did not yield the intended results of a bailout package to save the agency from embarrassment and loss of equipment that is critical to its efficient and effective operations that culminate into citizens’ choices of who should govern them.
As a result, the very heartbeat of our multiparty democracy is now under threat and the institution entrusted to safeguard it is losing face over the most mundane of factors—increasing inability to pay for its obligations either because of its own inefficiency or due to lack of funding from an equally and perpetually broke Treasury.
Of course, MEC itself does not have a glowing truck record of prudent public finance management.
Indeed, too many audit reports show that they could have made a lot of savings that should have helped them to pay for some of these services that have resulted in sheriffs rudely knocking on their doors and picking up whatever they can to recover their money.
The images of MEC’s expensive vehicles lined up at the High Court for the hammer was not very inspiring.
Still, something could have been done if not to save MEC’s hide, then at least to preserve the integrity of the institution that is government, which appears to be losing it in droves every day.
Nothing could be a more serious indictment of how far we have gone to mismanage our hard won democracy than our utter failure to keep the commission running.
The financial stress around Capital Hill and most of its arms is disheartening.
I am reliably told that several government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) operating from rented premises face evictions because the Ministry of Lands and Housing—which is mandated to provide office accommodation to MDAs—has not paid landlords for a long time.
The owners of the buildings are apparently tired of waiting for a tenant who appears to have a very sweet tongue, coming up with cock and bull stories every time the rent is due or conveniently taking ‘field’ trips towards the end of each month and returning mid month in time to tell the landlord that “mungodikira pang’ono poti mwezi uwu watha kale”.
Then just before pay day, off he goes again. Now when a government starts avoiding calls from landlords and the katapila folks that pass for our lending institutions just know that the country is heading in the wrong direction, a ditch to be exact.
At the rate things are going, I worry that we will wake up one day to find that Capital Hill has shut its doors due to lack of funds—no money for stationery, fuel etc. Government is never broke? My foot—this one is as close to bankruptcy as you can get.
This may sound like an exaggeration and it probably is, but it only goes to show just how bad the fiscal situation is in the country.
From households to firms and now government, things are not adding up and one wonders who then will remain robust enough to uplift this drunken economy from its wobbly feet.
There was a time when government was seen as a risk-free client, but when you look at the discomforting performance of government bonds on the financial market, and the hundreds of billions in private sector arrears that remain unpaid to the private sector, you get the sense that investors and suppliers are fast losing confidence in Capital Hill.
So, where does this leave Capital Hill? Right at the bottom—zero. And that is where the country should start from.
Fortunately, the second generation Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) II is expiring this year.
That gives us an opportunity to start all over again—come up with a plan that takes cognizance of our current situation and starts building from the bottom.
What we cannot do is to pick up the MGDS II, dust it up with new fancy language, throw in a few so-called “priorities within priorities” and say voila, we have a new over-arching blueprint.
That won’t just cut it. n