Can APM say no to aid?

Hon Folks, our people say when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. I have lived long enough to learn from history that when government engages donors in a tug-of-war, it’s us, ordinary Malawians, who suffer the bruises.

Which is why when APM raised his voice against donors at a public rally in Lilongwe on Tuesday, saying he won’t brook foreigners throwing spanners in the works on tapping water from Lake Malawi to quench the parched throat of the growing Lilongwe City, a chill ran through my spine.

The question is neither on the merit nor the urgency for such a project. Demand for potable water has already outstripped supply in the fast-growing Malawi’s capital city.

The problem is that government has adopted a Machiavellian approach, taking costly and risky short-cuts in the $500 million project. Reason? As APM puts it, “if nothing is done, here in Lilongwe there will be no water.”

Not only donors but also civil society organisations, members of the academia and various governance watchdogs question how government is going about it. They demand that government first conduct environmental and social impact assessment.

They also want transparency, accountability and, more bluntly, no-corruption in the manner the contractor for the half billion dollar project is selected.

At first, Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe seemed to have seen merit in what the other stakeholders were concerned about. He promised that before Khato Civils, the South Africa-based contractor that clinched the contract in a manner that has raised eyebrows, embarked on the water-tapping project, there would be a feasibility assessment exercise.

Then suddenly comes APM shooting on all fours like a Texas cowboy in a movie of the 1960s when Malawi was reeling under the yoke of dictatorship. The interrogation of what appears to be a dubious process is, as far as APM is concerned “sabotage”.

I beg to differ. If water crisis hits the capital city it will not be the fault of donors and other stakeholders protesting short-cuts. DPP has been in government since 2004. The only interruption was between 2012 and 2014 when JB took over after the death of APM’s elder brother and former president Bingu.

In fact, it was Bingu’s decision to relocate his base and all ministries to the capital city that triggered the rapid growth rate of Lilongwe’s population. If it were not for mediocrity, the processes we are talking about now should have been done long ago.

After the embarrassing flop of the Nsanje Waterway Project which Bingu arrogantly embarked on without regards to the concerns of other stakeholders, I’d have expected diplomacy—not threats or insults—to guide APM’s actions as President.

When Bingu had a spat with donors, he called them imperialists who were using aid to subject us to neocolonialism. He went as far as sending the British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet packing. Today, Bingu is gone but the Malawi nation is suffering the consequences of that action.

APM should not start diplomatic wars he cannot win. Donors are simply throwing their weight behind the issues the people of Malawi have taken with their government.

Some mineral-rich African countries are quick to accuse donors of eyeing their oil or gold. Does APM really think donors pour their money in this economy in anticipation of tangible returns?

What returns when up to 40 percent of the population cannot feed themselves? This independent sovereign State has not even figured out yet how to generate wealth through trade to replace their aid!

Government may use statutes to exact revenue from us through taxes and other means. But as long as we use their aid, donors will expect both our tax revenue and their aid to be used for the intended purpose.

If that’s too much, say no to aid, Mr. President.

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