K236bn plunder forgotten?

Former president Bakili Muluzi once said “Amalawi sachedwa kuyiwala (Malawians forget quickly).” He was referring to the atrocities the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) committed during its 31 years in power under the reign of Kamuzu Banda. Ironically Muluzi was once MCP’s secretary general. In that position, he was the party’s second most influential man after Kamuzu. But when Muluzi was making that statement at a rally while campaigning for a third term, he rightly expected that Malawians had forgotten all that.

The third term bid failed and Muluzi eventually settled for a Johnny-come-lately in Malawi’s politics, Bingu wa Mutharika, to succeed him.

Muluzi was right after all—that Malawians forget quickly. The famous or infamous Cashgate was first noted in 2005 although it was exposed in 2013. This is according to a forensic audit of the Government of Malawi by auditors—RSM Risk Assurance Services LLP of the United Kingdom (UK). Between 2009 and 2013 the malfeasance could no longer be kept under the carpet. By 2014, the malfeasance could no longer be swept under the carpet. Hard cash in millions of Kwacha was being kept or transported in car boots. But as they say, big things start with small people. A help hand spotted one of them and could not keep his mouth shut.

The Baker Tilly forensic audit which only picked six months of the 2009–2014 plunder—from April to September, 2013—uncovered that during this period alone, civil servants and businesspersons had looted K24 billion from the public purse.

Then there was the bigger Cashgate involving not K24 billion but K236 billion. Ten times bigger. When Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kaluwa was vocal about seven ministers in the Peter Mutharika administration who were alleged to have been mentioned in the K236 billion Cashgate report, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) pounced on him. To silence him I suppose. And to punish him for his loud mouth. After that incident, Kamlepo was the last person to talk about the K236 billion looting. No-one in government wants to talk about that report. The issue now seems to be water under the bridge. With elections behind us, there must be huge relief among the seven ministers alleged to have been mentioned in the report because Malawians forgot about the issue. They are now focused on the court case about the May 21 elections.

When former Salima South Member of Parliament Uladi Mussa was acting People’s Party president, and was vocal against government, it (government) immediately went for him. He was alleged to have issued work permits and passports to undeserving immigrants. Now that he is politically correct after taking camouflage in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), that case is dead. As dead as a dodo. Malawians forgot about the issue.  The same Uladi Mussa who was being demonized while in opposition became a hero in DPP. He went on to win the party’s vice-presidency for the Centre.

How Malawi lost K236 billion will never be concluded under this regime. It is a forgotten issue. It is only you and me who have the cheek to talk about it. That forensic audit report (if any) for the whopping K236 billion looted from the public pulse between 2009 and 2014 was successfully swept under the carpet.

Of course, there have been other Cashgates like the 4.3 million liters of diesel which ‘guards’ drunk at Escom. It is now also water under the bridge. There is an audit report about materials worth over K10 billion which Escom procured and which may never be used in the next 10 years. Billions of Kwacha vanished at the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc). Mystery still surrounds the K1.9 billion of the K2.9 billion that Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) board approved to give to Admarc for maize purchases in 2016. Some 20 MPs embezzled Constituency Development Funds. These issues too are forgotten.

When the High Court ruled that there should be a recount of votes for Lilongwe South East constituency, someone in his wisdom decided that the best thing to do was to burn down the Malawi Electoral Commission warehouse which was housing the ballots. That too is a forgotten issue.

Meanwhile, donors are yet to return to Malawi for direct budget support, unshakable in their belief that Government’s Account Number One is a leaking bucket. They are dead right. The result is that the ultra poor continue to wallow in poverty as the gap between the rich and poor widens. Malawians have forgotten why they are in this predicament. Thst is why I say Muluzi was right after all. n

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