Honourable Folks, while the so-called “looting at the Capital Hill” is still the talk of the town, and the focus on whether the JB administration is on top of the situation, my concern is what all this means to honest, law abiding and hard working Malawians.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the President alluded to the fact that her government is trying to establish the veracity of a K72 billion bill it owes to local suppliers goods and services. Some of these claims date back to the Mutharika regime.
Government wants to verify that the amount the supplier is owed isn’t an inflated figure. The story goes like this: an unscrupulous business person connives with unscrupulous civil servants to claim K1 million for supplies worth K10 000. The difference becomes the loot that’s shared to finance an extravagant life enjoyed at our expense.
The delay in payment may make sense as a tool for detecting fraud, but what does it mean to the good, honest and law abiding Malawian, who won a tender to supply goods or service to government in bulk, went to borrow money from the bank, used it to purchase the supplies, delivered as per the terms in the contract and yet they have to wait for three years or more before they get paid?
If the sum owing to them doesn’t get adjusted to factor in depreciation, then the business is as good as dead. The bank will still want is money paid back with interest or will, without a blink, put on sale the beautiful house that was used for collateral.
The enterprising business person will suffer, his family will lost a home, the economy will lost a wealth-generating venture and job seekers will lost a potential employer.
Then there is the issue of 30 per cent of government revenue going down the drain every year due to fraud and corruption. First, it should be put on record that when former Director of Prosecution Fahad Assani made that assertion during the Muluzi administration, no senior government official, let alone either of the two previous heads of State, bothered to render any credence to it or do anything out of the ordinary to show seriousness in the fight against corruption.
Madam Joyce Banda is, to the best of my knowledge, the first president to openly admit the corrosive impact of corruption and its related vices on the national budget. The mount we are talking about here is equivalent to the donor aid Malawi has been banking on except this year when it was increased to 40 percent!
Interestingly, the President did not mention the 30 percent to stress the point that corruption has reached alarming proportions to merit the adoption of drastic anti-graft measures. Rather, she used it to emphasise the claim that even during the Muluzi regime there was rampant corruption in government.
The President went further to reinforce her point by reminding Malawians that even her immediate predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika of the zero-tolerance for corruption fame, is suspected to have fleeced the economy of K61 billion (about $152m) during the eight years he was in government.
But what’s the point talking about history when on her watch, civil servants are not only looting public coffers with absolute abandon but some have gone as far as hiring assassins to silence for good their distracters. When was it ever necessary for the business community and civil society to threaten boycotting paying tax due to corruption? When was it ever necessary for the donors to think of giving us aid in the form of forensic audit services instead of dollars?
I really wonder what JB makes of her ill-advised decisions on asset declaration in the wake of all this theft in government. Doesn’t it appear ironic, and indeed absurd, that law enforcers and checking bags and homes of subordinates for suspected ill-gotten wealth when ministers and the President are refusing to let people know how much wealth they have?
If disclosure of declared assets is a violation of rights, as the DPP argued the other day, why then is it necessary to disclose amount the law enforcers are discovering stashed in dolls at home or vehicles of low ranking civil servants? Are they presumed guilty before the courts have heard their cases?
I’m afraid the JB administration is failing to appreciate the larger picture. Schools lack, furniture as well as teaching and learning materials. There are no drugs in hospitals and morale of doctors and nurses is extremely low. The police, to whom we look for our security, are reportedly given as low as K2 million operational budget for guarding a city as big as Blantyre. Construction of some roads has stagnated to due lack of funds. The list of public goods and services in short supply is long.
We pay tax—as much as 30 percent of our monthly earnings—yet government is playing politics instead of showing good stewardship of the chop it makes on our hard-earned incomes. That, if ignored, is an election matter, at least for some of us.