Malawi's corrupt blame game

Malawians should brace themselves for even tougher times ahead after donors under the Common Approach to Budgetary Support (Cabs) decided to suspend budgetary aid to the government estimated at K160 billion (US$400 million) until they got assurances from independent sources that their money would be used for its intended purposes if channelled through the government system.

November 14th, 2013

Malawians should brace themselves for even tougher times ahead after donors under the Common Approach to Budgetary Support (Cabs) decided to suspend budgetary aid to the government estimated at K160 billion (US$400 million) until they got assurances from independent sources that their money would be used for its intended purposes if channelled through the government system.

This comes in the wake of the looting of government funds during which K20 billion disappeared. However, despite the donors demanding swift results, it seems that investigations are moving at a snail’s pace – as they are being hampered by a blame game between the current government and the previous one.

This is not to say that people are not being arrested. On the contrary, more than 25 people have been arrested and appeared before court so far to answer charges in relation to the theft. But what is worrying is that most of the suspects are junior officers – meaning that the big fishes are still out there hiding in plain sight, while the small fish end up in the police net.

The reality is that Malawians believe that such rampant theft could only have taken place with the authorisation of someone ‘big’ and they are baying for blood. There is no way that they will be appeased with a series of minnows.

The only two biggish fish who have been picked up so far are Deputy Director of Recruitment for the ruling People’s Party, Osward Lutepo, who is alleged to have received billions of  money from the government coffers without rendering the requisite services, and the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Theresa Senzani.

But this is not nearly enough for Malawians. And given the slow pace of investigations, most people have lost trust in the investigations and are now calling on the government to institute an independent team that will oversee the process.

Given this, there was – needless to say – a warm welcome from the people for a team of forensic auditors from Britain, which will help with investigations. But now the question is – to whom will these auditors submit their report? The initial arrangement was that the report should be submitted to President Joyce Banda but then there was debate in the National Assembly regarding whether it should actually be presented to parliament.

But all eyes then focussed on the political blame game that threatened to derail the investigations. After the former ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) started pointing fingers, the PP immediately retaliated by digging up reports from the past that showed that the DPP plundered more.

The PP revealed that the system that was being abused to siphon money from the public pulse – called the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) – was introduced during the DPP regime. It is alleged that the former ruling party plundered about K90 billion – far more than the current scandal over ‘just’ K20 billion.

Unsurprisingly, the desire of the DPP to get to the root cause of the problem in parliament faded after these allegations surfaced – and after President Banda announced that government accounts would be audited from 2006, when the DPP was in power.

But finally there was some progress. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament made 35 recommendations to the government in relation to the Cashgate scandal, including firing of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Governor Charles Chuka due to reports that his office was involved in the looting. They believe that the removal of the Governor will ensure smoother investigations into the role the bank – or indeed the Governor himself – may have played in the scandal.

The committee also recommended that it should travel to South Africa to interview the Budget Director, Director Paul Mphwiyo, who was shot last month. President Banda said Mphwiyo was the victim of a planned and targeted attack aimed at silencing him and ending his attempts to fight corruption – although some sectors of the society think otherwise.

In the meantime, Malawi police did travel to South Africa to speak to Mphwiyo, but they did not disclose any information that they might have gleaned from him. Once again, Malawians are having to wait – in the dark – for more titbits of truth to come out.https://mail.google.com/mail/images/cleardot.gif

 

Contacts

  • 1 Hood Avenue/148 Jan Smuts; Rosebank, GP 2196; South Africa
  • T. +27 (0)11 587 5000
  • F. +27 (0)11 587 5099