Cashgate. Tractorgate. Maizegate. Sanjikagate. Drugsgate. What do all these names or descriptions have in common? We Malawians already know. Any ‘gate’ relates to stealing or abuse of national assets by people entrusted to manage, use or guard them on our behalf.
It would appear that in Malawi, such stealing is ‘normal’ because it is expected. We Malawians expect officers to behave like those English goats that eat where they have been tethered or to be like that proverbial Malawian oil tapper whose skin never gets dry; but certainly not like that fool who died of thirst while his feet were right in the waters of the mighty Shire River.
Benefitting from one’s official work is something Malawians find hard to consider corruption. The man given the password to the country’s financial systems will, once in a while, ‘borrow’ something from the system for a drink or just to complete the superstructure of his home. The bank teller will take a K1 000 note from a client’s account to pay for his minibus fare home. It is normal.
All this is normal because we, Malawians, believe that nobody can impoverish the government because nobody knows how rich it is. What is not normal is when the government decides to use its agencies and organs to steal from its people.
Correct. There is nothing sinister about government introducing this and that tax. There is equally nothing surprising in the government raising the price of the passport and other luxury goods. However, it is surprising how the traffic police are milking Malawian motorists on behalf of the Malawi government, our government.
Last Monday, we, Al Hajj Sheikh Jean-Philippe LePoisson, Abiti Joyce Befu, our MG 66, the Most Paramount Native Authority Mandela, and I, the Mohashoi, decided to visit a friend near the Natural Resources College (NRC). As we drove towards our destination a few friendly motorists flashed the lights at us to warn us that government was hiding somewhere trying to harvest from where it never sowed. So, we kept our car, the Nissan Amailoko, to a crawling 60km/hour. Then as we approached the NRC turn, one police officer waved us aside.
“Sir,” he started, “where are you going?”
“Is that a traffic question?” I asked.
“You are driving at 60km/hour!” the police officer continued.
“Yes. Any problem?”
“You are overspeeding by 10km/hour!”
“That is not correct. This is a highway and the maximum allowed speed here is 100km/hr!” Mandela exclaimed.
“Can you go there?” the officer said, pointing us towards his colleagues sitting in a tattered Mitsubish Pajero, munching dowe as green maize is called here. I obeyed. Abiti, Native Authority Mandela, and Jean-Philippe followed.
“What is the issue?”asked one officer clutching a pen in his right hand and opening a huge Malawi government receipt book.
“Your colleague says we are ‘overspeeding’ at 60km/hour here,” I said.
“He is right,” said the second officer. “There is a signpost somewhere where you are coming from that tells you the maximum speed for this area. Didn’t you see it?”
“Next time read all the signposts carefully before you argue any case. Meanwhile you should pay K5 000!”
“We will not pay because the law is against spot fines. You need to take us to court,” Abiti argued.
“Thanks. Meanwhile, I will arrest you and keep you in custody until we go to court,” the officer said.
“Okay, we are ready to go to jail!” Jean-Philippe said.
“No. We will pay the fine,” I said as I fished out K5 000.
“Why are you giving in to corruption?” Jean-Philippe charged.
“Ask Jesse Kabwila or Peter Mutharika about Malawi’s jails,” I said. The police officer beamed.
“This money goes to government,” the officer who was writing the receipt.
“So government is stealing from its people? How do punish for no wrong doing?” Native Authority Mandela asked.
We went ahead to see our friend. On our way back from the NRC, we drove slowly to check for the speed limit signpost. We never saw it until we reached the Crossroads Roundabout.
“So, it means you need to drive under 50km/h from Lilongwe to NRC!”Jean-Philippe exclaimed.
“By the way did that guy use a carbon paper for our official receipt?” Abiti asked nobody in particular.