The forgotten K236bn plunder

Former president Bakili Muluzi once said Malawians forget quickly. He was referring to the atrocities the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) committed during its 31 years in power under Kamuzu Banda’s rule. Ironically, Muluzi was once MCP’s secretary general. In that position, he was the party’s second most influential man after Kamuzu. At that time, there was a very blurred line between State and the ruling party affairs. The ruling party was the State and vice-versa.

Muluzi made that statement at a rally to remind Malawians about what he thought they had forgotten about the MCP regime and that in that sense it had lost the moral ground to rule Malawi again. What the UDF leader had forgotten was that by reminding Malawians about MCP’s atrocities, they would inevitably also remember that he, Muluzi, as the party’s second most powerful person, was the master minder of those monstrosities.

Fast forward to April 2013, when the infamous Cashgate first noted in 2005 was exposed. This is according to a forensic audit of the Government of Malawi by auditors—RSM Risk Assurance Services LLP of the United Kingdom (UK). April 2013 was the tipping point when the malfeasance could no longer be kept swept and kept under the carpet. Ill-gotten hard cash in millions of Kwacha was being kept or transported in car boots instead of being kept in commercial banks. 

As they say, big things start with small people. Someone working as a help hand spotted some of the money stashed in sacks in a car boot. You couldn’t have blamed him for not keeping his mouth shut. He had never seen such an obscene amount of money before in a car boot. The rest is history.

A few people were picked in connection with the theft and some have been prosecuted following a Baker Tilly forensic audit into the matter. The audit uncovered that between April and September 2013 alone, civil servants and businesspersons had looted K24 billion from the public purse.

But this audit only picked six months of the 2009—2014 plunder. There was a bigger money heist involving not just K24 billion but K236 billion. Ten times bigger! And when Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kaluwa was vocal—before he was silenced—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 and punish the then naughty boy for his loud mouth! After that incident, Kamlepo has been the last person to talk about the K236 billion fraud. No-one in government wants to talk about that report. The DPP-led government—whose seven Cabinet ministers were alleged to have been mentioned in the report—has ably silenced the blazing guns on the issue.

The forensic audit report for the whopping K236 billion looted from the public pulse between 2009 and 2014 was successfully swept under the carpet. And in that sense we can comfortably say that conclusion on the loot was successfully delayed. But it has not been forgotten. It is still a ticking time bomb waiting to explode in someone’s face.

Of course, there have been other Cashgates like the 4.3 million liters of diesel meant for the Aggreko gensets which ‘guards’ drunk at Escom. There is an audit report about materials worth over K10 billion which Escom procured and which it was reported in 2018 would never be used in the next 10 years. Billions of Kwacha vanished at the moribund 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.

Most recently, an audit report revealed that K32 billion vanished in several government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Nothing is happening now about all these frauds for reasons that are well known. Well, these issues can be dormant now but they have not been forgotten.

Meanwhile, donors are yet to return to Malawi with direct budget support, unshakable in their belief that Government’s Account Number One is a leaking bucket. You cannot blame them. They want value for their people’s tax. The result is that the ultra poor continue to wallow in poverty as the gap between the rich and poor widens. 

I am steadfast in my belief that unless they choose to exit this world, all those who have been thieving our money—including the plunderers of the K236 billion loot—will sooner than later face the music. Their day will come and they will have to account for their actions.

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