This too is graft, why no action?

Honourable Folks, government has moved in with speed to curb the enrichment of civil servants and other unscrupulous suppliers of goods and services at the expense of 14 million Malawians.

Heads have rolled, Cabinet dissolved and reshuffled, auditing systems scrutinised, opposition and civil society consulted on the way forward, foreign expertise in forensic audit sought and the meeting of Parliament fast-tracked to discuss the looting.

Government has also finally pushed for Asset Declaration Bill to give teeth to a constitutional provision which has been ignored for the past 19 years. Fahad Assani, who asserted while serving as the Director of Public Prosecutions during the Bakili Muluzi administration that 30 percent of government revenue was being lost to corruption annually, has been roped into government as Justice Minister with a call to ensure the hole at the bottom of the public wallet is properly and permanently fixed.

Knowing how inertia makes government move at a chameleon pace on many urgent issues of national importance, we can only marvel at the supersonic speed the JB administration has tried to send a signal—especially to donors who developed cold feet on their pledges which add up to 40 percent of the national budget upon hearing the news of the looting—that it is in control and will leave no stone unturned to tighten controls and punish the culprits.

We will all benefit from such a move and I am tempted to say “bayethe” [thank you] to donors for putting your foot down, clearly sending a message that there is no hope for aid unless government ensures the funds are used for the intended purpose.

Malawian taxpayers contribute 60 to 70 percent of the budget, but government often takes us for granted for the simple reason that paying tax is a statutory obligation.  Donors contribute much less but their aid gives them more leverage for the simple reason they can freeze it anytime.

Which is why, it is prudent to take advantage of the momentum and demand that the anti-graft broom does not spare any dirty corner of government such as inside trading.

How come when Muluzi won the elections in 1994, he suddenly became the richest philanthropist in the country and his UDF became the richest party? How come when Bingu wa Mutharika won the presidency in 2004, he became the richest philanthropist in the country and his DPP became an overnight millionaire party?

How come JB is suddenly extremely rich, feeding the nation, throwing around millions, globe- trotting for weeks with a contingent of traditional leaders and elderly persons and her party exudes the aroma of affluence  when before April last year, her People’s Party  was as financially distressed as many of the briefcase parties on the registrar’s list?

If Assani really means business, he should address the conflicting interests between the right of people in government to engage in economic activity and the constitutional restriction on the use of a public office for personal gains.

We are told unscrupulous businesspersons get big government contracts through the back door after promising to plough back part of the profit as a donation to the party or influential individuals in government. Obviously, such deals serve the personal or partisan interest and can only happen by violating set procurement criteria.

There are also cases of people in government—Cabinet ministers or senior civil servants— who create real or fake companies to supply government with goods and services. Often, such companies inflate prices, deliver substandard supplies or get paid without or before delivering the supplies.

In the mid 1990s, Cabinet ministers and civil servants used this method to loot millions of kwacha from government by sharing among themselves contracts to construct classroom blocks, teacher houses and school fences which never happened. Despite wide publicity of the scam in the media, many of the culprits are walking free today and inside trading remains a major way through which people in government use their public offices to amass wealth for themselves at our expense.

If it is acceptable that people in government should do business with the same government then the law must be tightened to ensure they do not take advantage of their positions to get the deals unfairly, inflate prices, offer substandard goods or services or get paid before delivery.

Government owes this to innocent Malawians who are dying needlessly in our hospitals due to drug shortage when the money that could have been used to procure the drugs is stolen by criminals in government masquerading as servants of the people.

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