In denial of rampant corruption?

Hon. Folks, the comparison of Reaganomics to “Tchopanomics” and the use of the expression “It’s Tchopanomics, stupid”, a derivative of Mr. Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville’s phrase: “[It’s] the economy, stupid” in last week’s article offended the sensibilities of some people. I therefore would like to retract those parts of the article and assure you Folks that, from this public side of the chamber, focus shall always train on issues and never intentionally belittle anyone or the beauty of our diverse cultures.

Which is why, today, we will dwell on corruption, the debilitating vice which is eroding the resources government could use to deliver public goods and services, develop the country, improve people’s living standards and generally, win the poverty-reduction battle.

It was estimated way back in the days when Bakili Muluzi was President and not crime suspect, that corruption coupled with fraud and inefficiency was costing government 30 percent of its revenue or 5 percent of GDP.

Over the years high-level corruption has metamorphosed into an octopus with many sucker-bearing arms. A chain of bad guys in government network with suppliers fleece government of its revenue.

The earliest known case of the malpractice was in the Ministry of Education in the 1990s when K187 million was paid out to contractors who made bogus claims of building classrooms, teacher houses and school perimeter fences in various parts of the country.

The apex of such malpractices was in 2013 when Cashgate—the massive looting of state coffers through bogus claims— was exposed. A subsequent audit by an international firm revealed that cashgate was rampant throughout the period 2009 to 2014, Bingu wa Mutharika’s second term which also saw VP Joyce Banda assuming power after Bingu’s death in April 2012.

Donor reaction was decisive. Likening Malawi’s Public Finance management to a “leaking bucket”, CABS–DfID, Norway, AfDB and World Bank—stopped giving budgetary support and donors started channelling their scaled-down aid off-budget, a loss of confidence in government’s Account Number One!

Under such circumstances, the government which operates on a shoe-string budget should have taken drastic measures against corruption to protect its revenue and restore donor and investor confidence in the economy.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame did that from way back the 1990s and John Magufuli who became President of Tanzania a year after our 2014 tripartite elections also did that from day one of his tenure. Results: the two countries are on an enviable transformational trajectory!

Transparency International’s latest global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report shows Malawi case has not improved an iota in the fight against graft since 2012.  In Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc), only Zimbabwe and Mozambique are worse off.

But Zimbabwe’s new broom Emmerson Mnangagwa, just like South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, has vowed to pull no punches in the war against corruption. Should he walk the talk, Zimbabwe—already a much bigger economy than Malawi—will soon claim its place among the middle income countries of the region.

EU hasn’t publically said a word on why it hasn’t remitted the K55 billion grant which was factored into the 2018/19 national budget. What it has done is to say it’s still waiting for the outcomes of the 2017 anti-corruption indaba it sponsored.

Folks, government was banking on that K55 billion and K60 billion from World Bank—also yet to be released—to shore up its recurrent, not development, budget. Now that government has failed to meet its half year revenue targets coupled with the overspending on Admarc bail-out and wages, it’s easy to see how desperate the situation is.

I for one shudder to imagine what fiscal disaster awaits Malawi should the World Bank change its mind on the K60 billion budget support! But with the present levels of corruption, why does the government require convincing that not only donors but investors also are likely to shun Malawi? n

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