Barking while kept on a short leash?

H

on Folks, APM’s pledge to build stadiums for Big Bullets and Mighty Wanderers wasn’t for the love of football. The President hasn’t shown a sweet tooth for outdoor games, let alone football.

The naked truth is that it was a calculated campaign promise meant to win the hearts of the youth in  Blantyre, particularly the populous Ndirande and Bangwe, home townships for Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers, respectively.

Now that APM is in government, albeit on a victory clouded in controversy, it’s time to walk the talk and deliver on his pledge.

Finance minister Joseph Mwanamvekha ensured funding for the stadiums was provided for in the 2019/2020 budget. Folks, together the two stadiums will require K1.6 billion of tax-payers’ money!

If approved, the soccer-mad younger folks of Bangwe and Ndirande younger folks will forever remain indebted to APM for providing their beloved teams with home grounds.

But if not—which I suspect even APM himself would wish it were the case now that elections are over and he’s now saddled with economic realities of our poor country—the blame would be on the MPs, especially those from the Opposition.

MCP, UDF, UTM and PP leaders know we should be prioritising on schools that fall on our children and hospitals that are dehydrated of drugs, even pain-killers. Will they shoot the allocation for the stadiums? It will be the right thing to do but also a sure way to lose significant support of the youth not only in Blantyre but other districts as well.

It’s not for nothing that Big Bullets and Wanders are known as “the people’s teams”.

But it isn’t surprising, is it that Mwanamvekha didn’t even try to justify such a huge allocation to a spending line that doesn’t belong to the public sector.  The irony is that the machinations did not deter the Finance Minister from stressing the need for fiscal prudence and cut on wastefulness in the same breath.

He talked about the intention of his ministry to play an oversight role in the public procurement process to ensure government gets value for money. He also said government would engage an overdrive in the fight against corruption.

Just how easy is it to reconcile such well-thought-of measures with the allocation of K1.6 billion of taxpayers’ money to the construction of stadiums for privately owned football teams?

Unlike companies which make the money they spend and shut down if prudence is thrown to the wind, government gets its primarily from taxpayers on the understanding that the revenue collected would be used in the provision of public goods and services. 

Simply put assets such as schools, roads, hospitals, bridges, security, national stadiums, national airports, national radio or TVs, public universities, etc. built by government are public in the sense that they belong equally to the people of Malawi.  It may require an instrument such as public, private partnership (PPP) for any public assets to be managed by private entities under a predetermined period and for the purpose of achieving mutually agreed win-win goals.

It would’ve been better for APM to champion the mobilisation of private funding for the two projects rather than setting a bad precedence of saddling MPs with the burden of sanitising the national budget of illegitimate but politically-correct expenses that lie outside the public domain.

Which is why there’s need to value add on Mwanamvekha ‘s take on the need for Treasury to first scrutinise funding claims for procurements  from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) before releasing funds.

Notwithstanding rocking government operations in bureaucratic red-tape, the more eyes that pay attention to the due diligence test, the greater the likelihood of detecting questionable transactions before public funds are paid to crooks that should’ve been handcuffed and thrown into jail. 

Whichever way you look at it, estimates of annual loss of public revenue to fraud, corruption and inefficiency are humongous. Some put them at 30 percent of public revenue, others put them at five percent of the GDP.  The leakage is just much too much for any well-meaning government to ignore.

Yet from back in the days of Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and now Peter Mutharika, losses to public finance are generally ignored. While Finance ministers generally preach about the need for reforms meant to reduce waste, fraud and corruption, their spendthrift employers continue with policies devoid of frugality.

They also pay lip service to the fight against corruption while creating safe havens in the system for cronies that are corrupt to boot.

Will Mwanamvekha summon the courage and strive for APM’s buy-in to ensure his proposed tweaks to the procurement process don’t breed sacred cows in their infancy?  Effective due diligence shouldn’t have mesh that can only trap low-level corruption, should it?

The challenge in Malawi is how to deal with high-level corruption. I guess it’s because this kind of corruption enables the fat-cats in government to get good return on their investment in politics.

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