Battling for Malawi’s soul

July 25 2019.

It appears the Malawi dins are not dying as soon as you would presume. It would appear we are so obsessed with melodrama that everything else can stop moving as long as there is comic relief to ease our economic pains.

What can you say of a country where vendors take to the street to demonstrate against demonstrations? In their reasoning, the vendors said they are tired of the chain of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) demonstrations as they are disrupting their businesses. How they chose to disrupt their own businesses on the day is baffling.

While you are at it, you hear former president Bakili Muluzi calling to the roundtable HRDC to call off the demonstrations against Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah. HRDC has put its foot down. Like I said before, dialogue is important, but it must be initiated not by individuals but groups that have the trust of Malawians for their sober appreciation of seemingly divisive issues like the one at hand.

One can’t down Muluzi’s negotiation skills but it is my feeling his involvement in this particular case would make better sense if he were commissioned by other authorities than appointing himself to make peace.

But then, while we are all lost in this din, the First Lady Gertrude Mutharika comes onto the scene for all the wrong reasons. First she is in the news for leasing out donated trucks to the Blantrye City Council. The two trucks, a donation from the People’s Republic of China to her charity, Beautify Malawi, were leased to the council for K60 000 a day, and BCC paid K22 million to Beam in 2017.

Trusts and funds run by first ladies have always brought more questions than answers on their state. It has always been a wonder why the trusts and charities die natural deaths when they stop occupying Plot Number One.

But before you could laugh at this as one of those jokes we are slowly accepting as the reality of our Malawian being, the First Lady is back in the news. It is reported she blew K30 million from the public coffers to attend the graduation of her son Talandira in the United Kingdom.

Performing motherly duties is a welcome thing and to rejoice in the successes of a beloved son is very normal. What is out of order is that she had to dig into State coffers for such a private matter.

With an entourage of seven for a 10-day outing visit for the graduation at University of Greenwich is extreme exorbitance. In their explanation, State House says the First Lady normally has an entourage of 12, which has been reduced to seven for the UK trip. Further, they say it is cheaper to get security and other staffers from Malawi than they would do in England.

Well and good. The First Lady’s security is primary. She needs a lot of other people around her to ensure she is comfortable. But, this is a private matter. We all know that the office of the First Lady is not guaranteed by law. It has no budget. This may be the reason we see, year in year out a bloated allocation to State Residences in the national budget. The only time the President’s spouse travel abroad is at government expense, by law, is when she is accompanying the President.

The trampling of the law by the Executive, no matter how flimsy it may appear, sets us off the track in our battle for the soul of Malawi.

Using public money for private affairs, no matter how much justification, is absolutely wrong. For that matter, saying that the cost of travelling with an entourage on government pay is cheaper than hiring the service abroad is admission of wrong-doing.

Last time I checked, there was a minister who had a private wedding using public money and was jailed. But, in this case, I see us letting it pass as one of the comic reliefs to our pains. We will roll on, business as usual.

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