Hon. Folks, someone once said ‘politics is the art of looking for trouble’, never mind the perpetrators or victims.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also assumed that politics is almost as exciting as war and quite as dangerous only that in war you die once while in politics you can die many times.
True to these theories, Malawi has since 1994 witnessed numerous dramatic episodes, where some political parties and individuals courted political trouble whose outcomes were either exciting or utterly dangerous.
These episodes distinctively hit the pinnacle between 2005 and 2009 when the opposition teamed up against former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika, accusing him of abusing the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to ‘persecute’ opponents.
Such accusations mostly came from the United Democratic Front (UDF) following numerous arrests of its senior executive members by ACB on charges of fraud and corruption.
After winning his first presidency on a UDF ticket in 2004, Bingu instantly launched a spirited crackdown on the UDF-led regime, cleansing it of deep-rooted corruption and bad governance that prompted the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other major donors to suspend aid to Malawi in 2001.
Compared to his predecessor Bakili Muluzi, the older Mutharika assumed office as an ideal candidate flaunting an impressive educational background (undergraduate, post graduate and doctorate degrees in economics) and an imposing track record having served in various prestigious organisations such as the United Nations, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and the World Bank.
Hon. Folks, it was, therefore, not surprising to see Bingu’s enthusiasm to revive the country’s ailing economy to the extent of refusing to appoint into his Cabinet high-ranking UDF members that had previously been implicated in fraud.
“For the past 10 years [1994-2004] corruption has been condoned in Malawi by the UDF. Even some NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and donors have condoned the practice … The fight against corruption remains the focus of my government,” Mutharika said, vowing to intensify the steam of his anti-corruption drive.
In fact, it was his declaration of war against corruption in his 2004 inauguration speech that frightened many within the party’s top ranks and file forcing them to accuse their economist of advancing vendetta politics.
At one point, former UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu and then Malawi Congress Party (MCP) publicist Nicholas Dausi accused ACB of “witch-hunting”, claiming the bureau was only targeting opposition politicians in its anti-corruption drive.
Hon. Folks, this effectively marked the start of a political disintegration for the once mighty UDF regime that actually established ACB in 1995 as well as setting up the foundations for Malawi’s modern democracy.
It was Bingu’s tough stance against corruption that strained his relationship with the UDF and its leader Muluzi who handpicked him ahead of the 2004 elections forcing his surprise resignation from the party on February 5 2005.
Since then, the phrase ‘political witch-hunting’ was popularised by some sections of the opposition who for one reason or the other felt their political interests were under threat.
This is the exact case even now in the present scenario. The same Dausi and others who served in the previous government are accusing the new administration of Lazarus Chakwera of implementing a witch hunt against DPP alleging that MCP plans to arrest senior DPP members as part of the political persecution is aimed at killing the party.
Already, several arrests have so far taken place within the first month of the new Tonse government and a lot more are possibly coming which, logically, should send some chills down the spines of many (not everyone) who served in various portfolios particularly in government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
Which begs the question; why should Malawians be interested in politics and the government’s fight against corruption?”
Hon. Folks, corruption hinders development and suffocates the poor by diverting funds meant for them to benefit a few individuals. This is the very reason Bingu vowed in 2005 that anyone found to be corrupt, including those who served in his government was not immune from prosecution.
In the same spirit, we urge the current government to dig deep into all suspicious government transactions from all the previous administrations where possible while guarding against the vice under its own watch.
This is simply because government and politics impact every aspect of the lives of Malawians ranging from the hefty taxes paid and the resultant quality of services and development citizens get from the government.
A warning to the new government is that they must avoid employing extreme measures with little regard to the reasonable guilt of any targeted individuals lest this whole fight against corruption will lose direction and absolutely become a witch hunt.