Honourable Folks, government decision to replace ministerial Mercedes Benz cars with Toyota Prados came in the name of cost-cutting, a symbolic gesture to show the world that the austerity measures adopted to restore the economy back on course haven’t spared the Cabinet.
But while donors—the constituency the JB administration listens to most—-may be indifferent to how the replaced Mercs are disposed of, the taxpayer who also happens to be the voter, has every reason to feel cheated if ministers end up getting the Prado TX as an official car and the luxurious Merc as a personal car at our expense.
Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu hinted on the possibility that government may indeed sell the Mercs to Cabinet ministers in his reaction to John Kapito’s call for consumers to protest unless the vehicles are sold by tender.
Recently, a newspaper quoted Kapito as having said the law requires that public property be disposed of by auction. I’m not sure if such a law applies in all cases. Not long ago, there was a story in Weekend Nation about a former Deputy Speaker claiming she was entitled to buy her official car for a song at the end of her tenure of office.
The Attorney General’s advice on the matter indicated the claim had merit. I’d not be surprised, therefore, if there is precedence or indeed a standing policy justifying the sale of ministerial cars to sitting members of the Cabinet at say, 10 to 30 percent of their market value.
My argument is that these are desperate times requiring desperate measures. If government chooses to sell the Mercs to ministers for a song, individuals will benefit as has always been the case but at the expense of suffering Malawians.
A responsible government need not be persuaded on the merit of selling the luxurious Mercs at, or close to, their market value. It means more money to the public kitty which can be used for the purchase of drugs or teaching materials. It can also be used to keep our ambulances on the road or fill potholes on our roads. That way, the ultimate beneficiary is the public, the taxpayer or the voter.
The loser may not even be the minister if that minister is willing to give suffering Malawians—the real owners of the luxurious Merc—what is on the price tag, following a thorough and honest valuation.
Of course, all this is based on the assumption that the money realised from such a sale will be put to good use and not used to finance the numerous presidential trips or the extravagant 5-star life style of the Cabinet.
These folks still nurse an insatiable craving for flying First Class, being chauffer driven and having a public servant by their side to carry the umbrella. Their claim on fuel is as if they are operating bus companies in our name.
It’s a wasteful lifestyle that started in the Kamuzu era and has endured the nearly 20 years of the multiparty dispensation. Since it all starts at the top, civil servants who see and process funding for such expensive lifestyles are more and more joining the fray.
Some of them are obviously living way beyond their means, basking in the comfort that their political bosses won’t raise eyebrows for fear of opening a can of worms on themselves. They operate under the mantra: what’s-in-it-for-me?
Which is why, meaningful reforms in government can only start with change of the mindset of the political leaders. They should lead by example in putting the common good above personal gains.
I believe the austerity burden imposed on us largely by Executive blunders would have been a bit lighter had there prevailed a sense of we’re- in-this-together.
But while electricity tariffs have gone over the roof and fuel prices are going up by the month, there won’t be any sense of we’re-in this-together if ministers quietly haul the Mercs to their private garages while keeping the Prado TX on the parking lot of their official residences.