It is 2019 and it is quite appropriate that I wish you a happy new year. So, happy new year to you. Now that that is out of the way, let us look back at the past year and celebrate it (or not) for what it was: another year of failures in governance and democratic accountability.
Let me indulge you in a couple of choice highlights (lowlights?).
For me, the biggest issue of the year relates to the reports of the monetary transactions between the State president Peter Mutharika and one Zameer Karim. The said Karim, a beneficiary of huge government contracts, was said to have deposited a MK145 million gift into an account whose sole signatory is none other than the president. Barely a week after this news, investigative journalists from the Nation Publications Limited (NPL) published a story providing evidence of yet another ‘donation’ of a number of vehicles valued at MK85 million by the same Karim to the president.
Whilst it is clear that political gifting is big business in our politics both on the government and opposition sides, the 145 scandal takes the biscuit for its sheer size and brazenness. To date, the president has said nothing to explain why a businessperson who is under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) seems to enjoy giving him these extravagant gifts. Or, more importantly, why the president thinks it is okay to receive these huge amounts of money as gifts in the first place.
Another lowlight for the year was the appointment of Charles Mchacha into the cabinet in the same week that the said Mr Mchacha had used derogatory epithets against women in political formations opposed to the DPP. Despite the protestations from citizens and civil society organisations, the president held fast onto Mr Mchacha’s appointment.
As the late Bingu used to insist; one must only be judged by their actions and less their words. In this instance, it was clear that the president obviously does not mind that we have a cabinet minister who is at ease calling mothers, daughter and sisters whores and other unsavoury words. This might seem a small matter but given the fact we are heading towards an election, leaders who speak in this way are a danger to our safety.
Whilst the president speaks of clean politics and clean campaigns, it is important that such messaging is followed through by the company he keeps. By choosing to keep the counsel of people like Mr Mchacha in key positions of the state, the president is undermining the very message he is paying lip service to.
Another depressing fact from the past year has been the deplorable condition of new but poorly built infrastructure. We have lost children through falling masonry in dangerous public schools. We have witnessed multiple new roads and bridges disappear at the first whiff of the rains. In all these cases, there has been no effort to assure citizens that those responsible will be brought to account and that the public purse will be reimbursed for these shoddy pieces of construction. Many of these pretend-roads and bridges have been delivered by individuals and entities who, but for their political colours, would rightly be under investigation by the appropriate government agencies.
But not all is lost. There was good news from the year too. One of the biggest cashgate trials came to a conclusion and a significant number of 145ers were found guilty. Thus whilst the fight against corruption is stuttering at the political level; it is clear that some of our accountability institutions are doing right by their mandate. Imagine how much more could be achieved if there was no political cover for those suspected of grand corruption?
That said, I welcome you to the New Year with optimism, not because we will see major changes in the way we are governed, no; but because this year brings us closer to the time when those politicians who let corrupt officials thrive under their watch; and those politicians who covered for fake contractors that gave us shoddy infrastructure; and those politicians who gave themselves raises whilst our hospital struggled without access to basic items and medicines; those politicians will come to us, asking us for our votes. So this is actually a good year because it is finally time we get to sift the chaff. n
—The author is from Bangwe and sometimes teaches law