A president and a bounty

There is an old French politics joke about former French president Jacque Chirac and dishonesty. It was popularised by Valery Giscard d’Estaing, France’s President between 1974 and 1981.

“Jacque Chirac could have his mouth full of jam,” d’Estaing once said, “his lips can be dripping with the stuff, his fingers covered in it, the pot can be standing in front of him. And when you ask him if he’s a jam eater he’ll say. ‘Me, eat jam? Never!’”

I am reminded about the Chirac joke by the events of the past week. A leaked dossier from the country’s often maligned graft-busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), makes some explosive reading.

It concludes that after investigations, the Bureau believes that a deal between Malawi Police Services (MPS) and a private supplier of food rations, was fraudulent and further calls for prosecution of those involved.

President Peter Mutharika, would have been among those the dossier wants prosecuted, if his office did not guarantee him immunity from any prosecution.

The dossier, which even ACB has not disowned to date, alleges that part of the loot was transferred into a bank account of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) whose sole signatory, intriguingly, is Mutharika.

A staggering K145 million from the deal—proceeds of crime really, according to the ACB—went into this account.

Intriguingly, the president does not deny receiving the money but argues that he is not guilty of any money laundering. The president, a veteran law lecturer, argues, through his spokesperson, Mgeme Kalilani, that the money was not a personal donation to the president. He says the money was a donation to the ruling party.

Now, now, now!

The whole world knows, since a week ago, that either Mutharika personally or the DPP which he is its leader, benefited from proceeds of crime but up to now, Mutharika has made no effort to make things right.

For one, our good president whose famed mantra is integrity, hard work and patriotism, has not found it a patriotic duty to return this money to where it belongs. Yet, according to ACB, that this money is proceeds of crime, is beyond dispute. Isn’t Mutharika committing further crime by continuing keeping this money or attempting to make it legitimate?

After swearing to defend our constitution, why is Mutharika quiet instead of calling for those also implicated to be prosecuted? Are they also suddenly enjoying immunity of his office? Instead of calling for justice, Mutharika, through his aides, has launched media attacks on those whom they blame for the dossier leak. Is that how to fight corruption?

Instead of the ruling party championing the calls for justice, it has unleashed its youths to beat up those calling for justice, while others are issuing threats on lives of those calling for justice.

And the president is quiet. Suddenly, he has picked up a fight with donors. The fight against corruption is officially over.

Elsewhere, in normal civilised countries, Mutharika could long have departed State House. By today, either he could have resigned to pave the way for investigations, as rightfully called for by the civil society and opposition, to clear his name or he could have been forced out by pressure from his own party or the citizenry.

That can’t happen here, apparently.  That can’t happen with Mutharika. Unfortunately he can’t be impeached, too, with the balance of power in parliament tilting towards his party and many lawmakers themselves lacking the moral courage—or ground—to impeach him.

But as we go to the polls next year, Malawians know what kind of a president Mutharika is. Preaching about integrity, patriotism and hard work would no longer wash. Mutharika has had his cake and consumed it all.

Like a jam eater who can’t accept that he eats jam—Malawians know, at least, their money is in a bank account only Mutharika controls. And a lesson must, indeed, be learnt that the immunity to the office of the president, is one vehicle driving corruption and when the time is ripe, the politics is right and the conscience of this country is correct, we must end it.

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