After almost a year of coddling Malawi’s President Joyce Banda and retorting to criticism of being in the tank for their rare symbol in a developing country of their debunked, tired and tiring free market policies, donors seem to be waking up from their deep slumber.
They seem to realise— though belatedly after damage has already been done—that as their praise and worship of Africa’s only second female Head of State has reached the climax and can only shrink public resources—including their own taxpayers’ money—are being looted through corruption and a frenzy of dubious payouts in compensation.
What is even more poignant is the blunt manner in which the Common Approach to Budget Support (Cabs)—the donor group that harmonises its budget aid to the Malawi Government—have told off the Banda administration: You are enriching a few while the masses’ suffering deepens.
What took these donors so long to begin to see things from a poor Malawian’s perspective? It beats me clean given that they silently watched from their posh diplomatic compounds as technical people were being fired willy-nilly from contractual jobs that are now costing tax payers billions, looked the other way as the very foundation of democratic governance was being ruthlessly demolished and the public finance and economic management architecture was being dismantled bolt by bolt and nut by nut.
In fact, as the media—including this columnist—pointed out the Banda administration’s governance flaws, policy incoherence and its application of the same without a strong, verifiable business case, donors were issuing coordinated statements and could at times unceremoniously jump out their seats to her defence.
It was, therefore, interesting this week to hear Cabs co-chairperson Peter Woeste—who is also the German Ambassador—mourn about the “unjustified” payouts in the current economic environment, as he put it.
“There are, for example, large payouts to individuals in terms of ‘golden parachutes’. This cannot be justified in the current economic climate and sends a message that while many are suffering, a few lucky people are able to gain and prosper.”
He added: “Naturally, this [large payouts] causes resentment and dissatisfaction and undermines the efforts of government to handle the economic crisis.” This is what most of us have been saying all along and for donors to see that now—after several months of free-for-all pay bonanzas—is remarkable.
Of course, Cabs words sound nice, but there are so many unjustified things that the ambassador chose to leave out.
I hope that Woeste and the rest of the donors, by remaining numb against broader bad governance issues surrounding the Banda administration, are employing the strategy that former United States president Theodore Roosevelt used of speaking “softly and carry a big stick”.
I pray that behind their velvet glove is a clenched iron fist. Otherwise, history will judge the donors harshly because the arrogance that President Banda is exuding partly comes from the adoration that official donors and other foreign agents have showered on her—some kind of godfather looming protectively large around her.
Otherwise, how do donors “justify” their silence when the President frequently hops around the world with hundreds of thousands of foreign currency in allowances? How do they “justify” their silence when the Head of State drives her big cars around the country handing out little bags of maize, opens small functions, inspects maize farms while pocketing hundreds of thousands of kwacha in personal local allowances a day and blows millions daily on her entourage?
How do they “justify” their gagged voices when the President can cancel duly processed procurement contracts and, I suspect, ensure that her preferred suppliers are considered?
How do these donors “justify” their stillness when the President creates a maize shortage and exploits the same for her political advantage “coming to the rescue” of families with no maize? The point is that I am happy donors have snapped out of their slumber and started pointing out the governance ills that are gnawing at the heart of this country.
But the donors left the wound untreated for so long that it started getting infected, to a point where the leg may have to be amputated because whatever intervention coming now maybe too little and a little too late.
To date, the Banda administration has already washed down its throat billions of kwacha with the donor silence as the enabling wine and ravenous Malawians watched with drooling saliva, hoping to be invited to the gravy train, only to be met with the forbidding and contemptuous eyes of the political elite and the laughing eyes of a donor community gone bad.
No, nothing can “justify” donors’ behaviour over the past 10 months.