Corruption and the presidency

Honourable Folks, the drama unfolding at Capital Hill, code-named cash-gate, poses a difficult question for voters in the 2014 elections: who among the known presidential aspirants—Joyce Banda (PP), Peter Mutharika (DPP), Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) and Atupele Muluzi (UDF)—has what it takes to ensure taxpayers’ money is kept in a secure wallet and strictly used for the intended purpose?
Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda isn’t known for human rights. He inherited a land-locked country dripping with the blood of victims of genocide and transformed it into one of the success stories of Africa. He achieved this feat largely by making corruption and inefficiency highly risky within the upper echelons of government and ensuring that, as much as possible, public revenue is strictly used for the intended purpose. .
Some have argued that if any of the leaders Malawi has had since the advent of multiparty system of government in 1994—Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004), Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2012) and Joyce Banda (2012 to date)—had half the  attitude of Kagame towards corruption, Malawi wouldn’t have remained dependent on donor aid.
It’s easy to see the rationale behind that thinking. What corruption takes away is equal to what donors all along have been putting into our national budget, 30 percent. Why not contain corruption and do away with aid, they reason.
I beg to look at the situation differently. Why not fast-track our migration out of poverty by shoring up government revenue from taxes and aid with the 30 percent revenue that’s currently being lost to corruption?
A feasible exit from the aid syndrome isn’t by accepting to operate within a very narrow revenue base. Rather, we need to use aid and every tambala we raise domestically to invest in the productive sectors of our economy and improve our infrastructure to attract more private sector investment. That way, government would be able to ditch donors when it’s able to stand on its own feet.
Right now, what should matter most is the fact that donor aid is highly sensitive to corruption. Cash-gate revelations of billions of kwacha disappearing from the government purse into the pockets of corrupt civil servants and unscrupulous businesspersons have led a freeze, so to speak, of aid which, this year at least, makes up 40 percent on the national budget.
What all this means is that unless government moves quickly to restore donor confidence in the economy, we are doomed to slip back to the Mutharika era when everything—forex, fuel, spare parts, drugs, jobs, etc—became extremely scarce. Memories are fresh of how many Malawians tripped back into living on less than a dollar a day (abject poverty) when eventually the kwacha had to be devalued by 50 percent and floated at the same time.
Winning the fight against corruption is also, in a way, means of ensuring aid taps remain open. Call it killing two birds with one stone, if you like.
But fighting corruption also  means taking away from the corrupt ill-gotten wealth which they spend on fast cars, mansions in prized suburbs of the Capital City and weekends at lakeshore holiday resorts so it can be used to ensure the theatre at Kamuzu Central Hospital is functional and that Blantyre Police is allocated much more than the K2 million monthly operational budget it is currently getting, which translates into a litre of fuel for its patrol vehicles per day.
It doesn’t require one to be a development economist to realise that corruption and inefficiency are the active ingredients in the mediocrity that defines governments in the post-Kamuzu Banda era.
It is, therefore, a moral duty of the media, leaders of faith communities and civil society organisations involved in the civic and voter education for the 2014 polls to unpack messages on how dehumanising corruption has been—reducing respectable, hard-working Malawians to beggars of food; making people die needlessly of easily curable diseases in public hospitals; rendering substandard the quality of education offered to children in public schools and generally overpricing the public goods and services providing by government.
It is not as if the leaders we elect didn’t know what to do to put this country back on course. They know, but they would rather we remain very poor while they amass wealth for themselves. They like it when they visit and give us flour, beans and empty promises of a better tomorrow which never comes. They want us to thank them with our votes for their generosity.
But as people, our dignity lies in our ability to fend for ourselves and pay taxes to our government. If lucky ones among us start throwing around money and other gifts after assuming the presidency, we should rightly question where all that is coming from. The president isn’t the highest paid Malawian.
What history has shown us is that it’s possible for a ne’er-do-well driving a wreck of a vehicle to amass over K60 billion in less than a decade upon assuming the presidency. Corruption makes that very possible. And corruption is what we must fight, unless we want to continue languishing in excruciating poverty while the rest of Africa is moving on and claiming the 21st century. n

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  1. This is a well written article and thanks very much. Just to concur with the Back Bencher, if we may recall during the first reign of Bingu when he was too strict with his Zero tolerance on corruption government was able to initiate a lot of development projects all across the country. The Kamuzu Mausoleum, the Kamuzu Plaque and tower, The roads in Lilongwe city and Blantyre city, the Nkhoma road, Ntchisi Dowa road, Mzimba Ekwendeni rod, Nsanje Bangula roads if I can remember correctly. in all these no donr money was used. It cemented his words that Malawi is not poor but it is the mentality of Malawians. Remember that during the first years of FISP government was procuring fertilizer without donor aid. When he loosened his grip on corruption no government project could be initiated. that underscores tha point that Corruption is our main evil as a nation and we need a leader who can strongly stand against corruption for Malawi to come out of the curse of poverty.

    Hope someone takes a leaf out of this article.

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