Political Party funding in Malawi needs a complete overhaul

Thom Mpinganjira

Politics and money have a cunning way of accentuating the dishonest and desperate aspects of humanity.

I mean, even if Zaccheus – the archetypal taxman of the time, & physically challenged chief tax collector had been a tame, impressionable and honest man, even if he had possessed more than just a few ounces of feigned holiness, his relentless pursuit of other people’s hard earned cash, and his association with politicians, I suspect, might have hidden his amiable senses firmly away.

But if you needed further proof of the pervasive corrosiveness money has on people in politics in more recent times, then the attempted bribery court case involving Thom Mpinganjira (in which he has been found to have a case to answer) presents an excellent example.

Because if Mpinganjira is to be believed, then we have on our hands the latest manifestation of just how vulnerable our politicians in Malawi are to manipulation and influence by moneyed folk.

It’s something we’ve known for a while, and while yesterday it was the Makhumulas, the Mbewes, the Tayubs, the Ganis and a long list of wealthy Asians bankrolling aChair and his UDF, today it’s the Thom Mpinganjiras, the Simbi Phiris, the Mias, the Gaffars, the Batatawalas, the Karims, and the Mullis who play benefactor, or as Malawians like to say “Well wishers”, writing big cheques in donations or loans to keep afloat our Politicians & political parties.

The game fundamentally hasn’t changed. And that’s before we even get to the melee of private companies jostling for political favours from one abiggie or another.

Clearly this is not a sustainable situation, not least because universally it is very well understood that many of those who fund political parties often seek influence or payback in some way, whether directly or in more subtle ways. The loan or “donation” is hardly an innocent transaction.

Indeed there’s no shortage of tales of benefactors of all shades across the world who have tried to exercise influence over the leaders of political parties they finance, in order for those leaders to make decisions that favour the benefactors or their companies. In quite a few places, some cunning benefactors have even managed to land cabinet positions, if rumour of the shenanigans that happen behind closed doors is to be believed.

But what have we learned from this court case so far?

Thom Mpinganjira claims he donated around K100 million to President Lazarus Chakwera, more than K400 million to Vice President Saulos Chilima of UTM and over K950 million to the DPP, under former President Peter Mutharika. He claims that even former President Joyce Banda also received about K40 million.

If these claims are indeed true, and evidence of the transactions is produced to back his claims, it further confirms the fears of people who have for a long time decried the negative role money has played in Malawis politics; that as a nation most of our prominent politicians are still beholden to private interests.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392508272708669443?s=19

Mind you, this is all just coming out now, and was unknown to most Malawians last year – when the country was busied by street protests & the Constitutional Court (Concort) proceedings that nullified the 2019 “Tipp-Ex” Elections.

Some analysts are now saying these are the funds that were most likely channelled to finance the 2019 Parliamentary and Presidential elections (the aforementioned Tipp-Ex Elections), and the re-run of 2020.

But ultimately, it means in nearly 30 years, Malawi has not made any progress in curtailing the influence that unregulated and undeclared party funding has over our politics. It means we have failed to create transparency so that party funders are known – for accountability and to prevent conflicts of interest further down the line.

Unfortunately for all the fanfare of last year’s ConCort decision, we haven’t made much progress elsewhere.

Had there been sufficient progress in this area, then it’s highly unlikely that Thom Mpinganjira’s FDH bank would have bought Malawi Savings Bank(MSB), with it’s large debtors book, for a pittance. In fact at the time, many keen-eyed political analysts observed in despair the many irregularities surrounding the sale including just how absurdly little opposition the transaction faced, and how some of the debtors on MSB’s books were said to be the very same major financiers of political parties and other politically connected persons.

In light of these revelations, one can see why there was no chance of the MSB deal being scrutinized or facing the required oversight you would expect to take place before such a large and treasured piece of national financial infrastructure was sold, when everyone (including those who were expected to provide scrutiny) was in Mpinganjira’s pockets!

Further, and on a different level, the Bribery court case revelations hint at a present failure of our legislature, in 2020, and now 2021, to establish laws which work to protect the interests of Malawians. In this case, laws that create a fair playing field where merit & qualifications are a stronger determinant in the suitability of a Malawian to stand for public office, than the size of their “well-wisher” wallet.

Simply put, it means you can unfortunately not only buy oligarchical influence in political circles, but you can probably buy your way into parliament in today’s Malawi.

And unfortunately that’s not a good verdict for Lazarus Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance. It certainly does not inspire confidence in the Government, because many people will be asking (and rightly so), that who else has bankrolled our politicians including those in the current Tonse Alliance, who we don’t currently know about, but who we ought to know about?

But how do we solve this longstanding problem? What must be done to move towards a path where political party funding is more transparent and does not negatively influence our politics or create an environment festering with conflicts of interests?

In a future article I will try to explore these questions in more detail with a view to mapping a way to a set of solutions, including highlighting past and present key solutions suggested by others.

As Malawians, this is not an issue we can afford to continue to ignore year after year because it’s costing us. The sooner we begin to address it, the less likely we’ll have these kinds of problems haemorrhaging our politics in the future.

Which African leaders will truly emulate the achievements of John Pombe Magufuli?

Presidents John Pombe Joseph Magufuli of Tanzania, 1959 – 2021.

Since his passing, quite a lot has been said about the life and works of Tanzania’s recently deceased president. And by most fair and sincere accounts, John Magufuli did have a tangible, measurable, commendable and signficant impact on Tanzania, taking the country along an admirable trajectory from a low income country up to the point Tanzania is now firmly considered to be a middle income country.

And most Tanzanians loved him for it.

And yet across Africa, although such success stories inspire millions and should in theory be common – they don’t happen very often, owing to a long list of failures, among them poor and uninspired leadership.

But if John Magufuli – who it must be said didn’t come from some grand or otherwise priviledged background that gave him special advantages – can achieve what he did in as short a space of time as 6 years, why can’t other African leaders do the same?

Power & Status

It is no secret that many leaders in Africa are drawn to political leadership for other reasons. They are not overly concerned about the problems their countries face, or the poverty and hardship. The overriding intention is not so much to provide good and transformative leadership in the way Magufuli did, instead a worrying number of African leaders are more bothered about power and status, leaving a leadership void in those countries, and consequently affecting the scale and pace of development.

These are the people who like to attend heads of state meetings of SADC, UN, AU, ECOWAS, etc. complete with stays in pricey hotels; they like to have smarmy business executives of dodgy companies attend state house to meet them – because it can be spun into an investment story; they love to be seen on the front covers of newspapers, to be interviewed by the likes of Al Jazeera, CNN or France 24 – making all sorts of grandiose promises, which years later, can’t be backed by any tangible achievements; they love to have the doors of their Mercedes Benz limousines opened by well dressed, neatly-shaven and altogether reverent bodyguards – who make them appear more important than they actually are; they like to attend every insignificant function that comes along, where they can be seen to be doing something or to please supporters – even when the impact of such functions on a national level is negligible and a single junior minister could have been dispatched to it. Increasing the salaries of top military officials or the trip to the UN General Assembly means more to such leaders than funding the education and welfare of poor kids in their countries’ ghettos; they like to see a band of protocol-obsessive allowance-seeking hand-clapping minions nod approvingly at everything they say, flanking them at press conferences, worshipping them on social media, inflating the sizes of their convoys, and generally putting out a false and deceptive apperance of competence and authority. For these kind of leaders, a picture taken with Barack Obama at the White House or with Bill Clinton or Richard Branson at some international conference means more than actually getting down to the hard work of resolving the youth unemployment crises in their own countries. They will talk endlessly of courting investors and trying to attract investment at these high level international gatherings, but years on – absolutely nothing comes out of it.

That love of glamour and status is more about pomp (the same english word where pomposity comes from) and let’s be absolutely clear when we say it is not leadership, and is exactly the kind of excess leaders like John Magafuli, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and even Julius Nyerere would despise.

Centralisation

It doesn’t matter how talented, knowledgeable and practical you think you are, you can’t adequately cater to the needs of millions of people on your own. Even if everyone within your cabinet was churning out tons of raw productivity, even if everyone in the ministries was ontop of their work, even if all government departments were working with superhuman efficiency and at 100% capacity, it’s still not enough to adequately cater for everyone’s needs from good healthcare and housing to employment and skills development, if things remain centralised.

Centralisation is a progress killer in African countries because everyone expects the president, the minister, the technocrats, the guy at the top to sort out everything for everybody. But the guy at the top doesn’t have superhuman powers to do justice to all the needs and requirements of the people he/ she leads or is supposed to represent. And his/ her priorities often are not the same as the priorities of the people in need.

If the impact of our Governments across the African continent is to be revolutionised, if we are to achieve more tangible things in less time, we need to begin to think beyond one man or woman being the person who authorises and pushes through some project or another to completion.

We need to democratise development to the point where we openly and unreservedly bring into the equation those people (or groups) whose lives are affected by governance failings, or under-service that’s not been prioritised, and empower them to be able to make a real difference in their circumstances, be it allowing them to organise themselves, to raise money, buy equipment, or build the infrastructure they need etc. without having to constantly seek authorisation from the central government.

In Malawi it means projects like the Neno road, a new international airport in Mzuzu, the new hospital promised to Michinji, and the Kapiri-Mkanda road among a long list of project promises should be treated as urgent infrastructure projects, and should be escalated, and a stringent implementation schedule set.

District officers and communities involved should be tasked with a new implementation schedule, provided funding that’s closely monitored, and subjected to regular monthly audits to strictly enforce the implementation schedule. They should also be free to solicit their own funding to add to that effort, and any failures, unexplained mishaps or delays should have serious consequences for all involved. That is the kind of thing John Magufuli would be proud of, and we’ve all seen the videos of his similar hard-hitting approach.

The way we fund, monitor and roll out major projects, and the implementation timelines need to be changed fundamentally, for projects to start being executed timely, and for them to be completed on budget.

Party allegiance vs allegiance to the country & the constitution

President Chakwera in Malawis Parliament

One of the qualities which is common in transformative leaders is that they are not afraid of stating the truth and offending powerful people.

In some cases this can be a negative quality and can lead to a leader’s downfall, but in most cases it is a good and necessary quality to have because a great leader needs to have a strong spine. He or she needs to be able to say No, when the situation calls for it. This is important since not everyone who will try and approach or influence an African President (however dignified the title of the influencer is, or however laundered the reputation of their organisation may appear) does so from a good or sincere place. Simply put, not everyone who talks to an African President has noble intentions.

Unfortunately there are so many examples of African leaders capitulating or giving into bad ideas, bad or exploitative deals when pressured, when they should infact have stood their ground firmly and said No.

Now here, I’m not talking about issues like COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines which scientifically have near global consensus on how to manage and deal with, in order to stem the spread of the pandemic.

What I mean is if a leader knows or has been made aware of the toxic influence or otherwise corrupt nature of say one or more of his own ministers or officials; he / she must act, and crack hard to decisively rectify that anomally. Even if individuals in his / her own party thinks the scandal should be ignored.

Similarly, a great leader who wants the best for his people should not allow his country to be heavily indebted to other countries or to international institutions. And if they find the debt when they get into office, they need to aggressively devise as a matter of urgency a workable, practical and stringent plan of managing and paying off the debt.

Old thinking vs 21st Century thinking

Employees at WhatsApp HQ

This fundamentally is about new wine and old wineskins.

The world is not what it was 40 or 50 years ago. While a Nelson Mandela, or a Kamuzu Banda, or a Jomo Kenyatta, or a Robert Mugabe were great and necessary needs for Africa 40 or 50 years ago, our countries at this moment have fundamentally changed and have very different needs and wants to the needs of the 60’s and 70’s; the kind of needs which cannot fully be tackled by using approaches or methods devised by African heavyweights dinosaurs.

That’s not to downplay the achievements of these great men, or to ignore the many rich lessons enshrined in their lives. Not at all. But having said that, many of them weren’t able to deal with everything properly. For example many such great leaders didn’t manage to eradicate poverty in their lifetimes, so even back then their successes had limitations.

A modern thatched house outside Lilongwe, Malawi.

Instead, our countries in Africa need leaders who understand the dynamics of the 21 Century; who ask questions such as:

what 20 practical things can we do to maximize the chances of the next WhatsApp being founded in our country?

The Africa of today needs young and dynamic leaders with vision who will pioneer projects for better connectivity, cheaper and affordable modern housing, attractive & inspired infrastructure, and well connected networks of affordable public transportation (modern trams, trains and road networks). Our countries in Africa need cheaper logistical costs for importation of desirable foreign goods, cheaper logistical costs for ease of export of the country’s processed goods without making them too expensive on international markets, State owned and run multi-billion dollar projects that will not only create thousands of jobs, but will bring forex – several of the kinds of things which we are now beginning to discover Tanzania was working towards. The list is rather long.

You can’t do that kind of thing effectively if you are still thinking of how to maintain a well-equipped secret police, or if your focus is just on winning the next election. You can’t do that if your parastatals and large public companies aren’t run by anyone under the age of 35, or when you don’t have enough women in leadership roles in such companies…

Birmingham City Library

It’s the difference between on one hand promising to build a stadium (whose long term impact on a poor country is debatable), and on the other hand working to build high quality modern libraries in each district and to bring free high speed internet to poor citizens and their children – most of whom can’t afford the often high data costs charged by private companies currently operating in African countries.

Continuing the spirit of Magafuli will require a fundamental shift in the way governance has been done in Africa for a long time. It will require true selflessness beyond party, tribal or national lines. It will mean breaking against party, regional and historic allegiances and doing what is best for everyone, not just the biggest or most powerful side. It will mean negotiating hard for the interests of the people, and not being intimidated by foreign powers or external pressure on matters of national or regional importance.

Magafulism has raised the bar extremely high for African leadership, and was well overdue. For now it remains to be seen just how many current African leaders will truly rise up to the challenge?

Why President Lazarus Chakwera shouldn’t have visited former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika

The Christmas holiday season is a strange time. One where friends, families, acquaintances and others who don’t fall into any of these categories meet to catch up, for food, celebration, for worship and generally for festivities. Suddenly, far removed from the ordinary day to day preoccupations most of us are usually accustomed to the other 11 months of the year, the petty-dislikes, by December many of us begin to plan for Christmas. Where we’ll spend the day, with whom, and for how long: we begin buying presents, buying gifts for the children, close friends and family, our choice of Christmas cards (even for those who we’re only obligated to do so), we begin planning the feast that is the Christmas meal/dinner, complete with all manner of indulgences from expensive drinks we don’t usually buy to calorie-rich desserts that do no justice to our health. It happens everywhere, even in countries where Christianity is not a big deal

President Lazarus Chakwera & the first lady meeting the former president and former first lady.

And so it was no great surprise seeing President Lazarus Chakwera and the first lady stop by Mangochi to visit the former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika and his wife.

However, Malawian are divided as to whether the visit was a smart move, and there has been a lot of harsh words on social media as to whether the visit should even have taken place. There are some hailing the visit as a sign of leadership and of building unity. But others think in terms of preserving the integrity of the presidency and giving out the right messages, the visit wasn’t a smart move.

As a private person, Lazarus Chakwera has the right to visit who he likes, when he likes, and at a place of his choice. But as the President of Malawi, I believe those personal liberties are constricted by the office of the presidency, and need to be exercised a lot more cautiously.

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The above picture is a beautiful picture of two leaders spending some time together, but I think the concern for most Malawians is that any interactions between Lazarus Chakwera and Peter Mutharika should not influence due legal process, or give the wrong signals to those in charge of discharging that due legal process.

There is also the idea that a President who won the country’s support on the back of the noble and overdue anti-corruption ideal “of cleaning up the rubble” to quote Chakwera’s own words should not associate with a former president who is either facing an impending investigation, or whose very close associates are facing corruption / embezzlement charges. And refusing to associate with a former leader whose colleagues are under investigation is not tantamount to punishment. Instead it’s saying that the Presidency should be above disrepute, and so any associations that can potentially tarnish that Office must be avoided.

That’s the reason why some of us were very angry with what some South Africans were suggesting regarding who smuggled the controversial self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri out of South Africa.

In any case, now you have a man of integrity in President Lazarus Chakwera – by any measure an honest and conscientious leader. But what happens the day Malawi somehow gets a dishonest and rogue leader; a tinkerer who after such a visit to a former president starts insinuating without proof that the former leader is in fact innocent? Or starts casting doubts or throwing aspersions on the legal process, or interfering in any impending investigation? What happens if at a different time and in different circumstances a Malawian leader indulges in behaviour – much like what the outgoing US president Donald Trump has often done in the US – to try to undermine Malawi’s institutions and legal process?

That’s when Malawians will realise that it’s not a great idea for a sitting president to be chummy with someone who has a grey cloud over their head, or in Mutharika’s case – someone who presided over the monumental racketeering of state resources, embezzlement of government funds and wholesale corruption like never seen before in Malawi.

This is how I would deal with the Tony Blair issue

If you didn’t already know, Tony Blair (like him or not) is back in town.

The former British Prime Minister is going to be working with the government of Lazarus Chakwera to …. do something? According to the website of Blair’s Institute for Global Change, Blair and his people will be ‘ …looking to set up a new project to support the govt of Malawi to strengthen its delivery and implementation mechanisms. This is likely to include a delivery function in State House, but also support other parts of the Presidency e.g. communications, international affairs…‘ and ‘…to strengthening delivery in the Presidency, the Project will seek to strengthen connections with other key ministries such as Energy, Agriculture, Industry and Trade, and the Ministries covering infrastructure‘.

But already, some Malawians are up in arms about the news. They are not happy with what suspiciously looks like a useless intervention. Among the protestations is the allegation that when Tony Blair came to Malawi to assist Joyce Banda in 2012, when she was President of Malawi, there wasn’t much that was achieved back then, and Malawians have never been given solid evidence that his involvement at that time was beneficial to the country, despite the significant cost his involvement incurred.

There has also been the allegation that considering the long-term effects of Britain’s foreign policy when Blair was British PM – which saw the UK support the US led illegal invasion of Iraq, among other misguided military campaigns, associating with Blair now apparently tarnishes Lazarus Chakwera’s near-perfect image, and is a regression of the very idea of a new corrupt-free Malawi. The architects of this accusation essentially say that some people will be asking “Why is that small poor African nation paying a fortune to a war criminal?” to quote just one twitter user, who no doubt is not a fan of Blair.

Finally, there are those who are resentful that the West including Tony Blair did not speak up or help Malawians when the former president Peter Mutharika, to quote one complainant, “tried to rape the constitution” in stealing the 2019 election (which was over-turned because of widespread irregularities). They say it was only when Lazarus Chakwera won this year’s Election re-run and ascended to power “that they came running” to quote the same complainant.

The government of Malawi in defending the collaboration with Blair has said that those who are against his involvement are xenophobic, which if you ask me, is about as lazy a response as any tired press officer could muster in his sleep.

But putting aside the unhelpful bickering, is Blair’s version 2 foray into Malawi worth the time and money?

This is how I would deal with the issue, if it were up to me:

I think some people who are opposed to the idea of Tony Blair’s services to the government of Malawi are getting the wrong end of the stick on two distinct but important things.

Firstly, they wrongly think that Tony Blair’s involvement is an admission that we don’t have any capable Malawians able enough to to sell Malawi to the world, which ofcourse we do. This criticism says that by employing Blair we are failing to recognise or advance the talent of hundreds of Malawians who can do pretty much the same thing just as competently – which is not true. The second fallacy in all this is that advice as to developmental issues should be free, or paid for by someone else other than the country that stands to benefit from such advice. This thinking too is misguided, and if you can excuse my Chichewa: ndi maganizo wa anthu ozolowela ku vencha.

Let me explain why.

The real question here should be what is a fair price for a poor country to pay for High Level access and investment due diligence?

The reason answering that question matters, or should matter, is because there are “doors” (figuratively maybe ‘corporate doors’ is more accurate here) out there which a Finance minister/ Business Development official of Lazarus Chakwera won’t be able to open on their own, but which with just one phone call from an influential person such as Tony Blair will land a face to face meeting.

Let me give you an example: Would Felix Mlusu (Malawi’s Finance Minister) or Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) be able to easily land a meeting with the head of Citigroup Michael Corbat? Or the CEO of Tesla Elon Musk? Or of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, or say, Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO Warren Buffet, or the Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline Emma Walmsley, or the Chairman of Dyson Technology Sir James Dyson, or Richard Lutz the Chief Executive of Deutsche Bahn – the largest European railway operator, and second-largest transport company in the world… I could go on and on, but all these meetings being for investment talks into Malawi?

I doubt such would be as easy or straightforward for any of the ministers or trade officials in Chakwera’s government.

But I can bet you that Tony Blair probably has the direct line of at least one of these executives in his mobile phone right this very moment. I am also certain that if he doesnt have their number, he personally knows someone in his network who has their direct phone number. And that even if he didn’t personally know the executive, the mere mention that Tony Blair is on the line to any of the executives would ensure that phone call is put through.

And it would be such a simple and straightforward exercise to arrange high-level meetings between a development team from Malawi, and senior executives of those companies.

That kind of access is valuable, and it’s high time Malawians learn this undeniable fact.

Thus, I think the questions Malawians should be asking should instead be (1) What is the Return on Investment (ROI) on using the services of people like Tony Blair; and (2) Can Malawi afford it?

I think someone has to sit down and talk to Blair’s people, crunch some numbers, and then explain to the Malawian people in detail the benefit of what they (or the so called “well-wishers”) will actually be paying for, so that there is less misunderstanding regarding these kinds of issues.

Of course we need to learn the lessons from 2012, but working with Blair ought to be a case of having a solid and strong contract between Tony Blair’s Institute For Global Change and the Government of Malawi, listing 11 or 12 targets or deliverables, an execution time period, and a non-performance clause:

  1. We want a joint-venture between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – the large British Pharmaceutical with revenues of £33.75 Billion (2019)- and the government of Malawi, to manufacturer drugs locally in Malawi, in which the Malawian government owns 51% of the joint venture, assuming GSK invests £200 million of hard cash into the facility and the development of the local area, development of downstream industries that supply big pharma, and to employ hundreds of Malawians.
  2. We want Citigroup to open a state of the art Investment & FinTech hub in Lilongwe to lure other financial industry heavyweights, and to help our FinTech entrepreneurs and local Finance sector companies tap into international capital markets. We would like them to invest at least £80 million into the facility and make it their East Africa headquarters, giving finance jobs and training to at least 200 Malawians.
  3. We want Amazon to open an East African Headquarters in Blantyre, Malawi, and regional Logistics Hub (Warehouses and fulfilment centres) for East Africa. We would like them to commit to investing $250 million into the venture, and to employ 400 young Malawians.
  4. We want Dyson Technology to build and open a state of the art Engineering University like the one they have in the UK, to train and equip hundreds of Malawian young people with practical engineering skills.
  5. We would like Tesla to invest $1 Billion in an electric car assembly factory and automotive battery manufacturing plant that will give jobs and technical skills to hundreds of Malawians.
  6. We would like to invite Berkshire Hathaway to invest between $1 Billion and $3 Billion in two large Solar farms to be built in Malawi, with assistance from one of the companies in their investment portfolio (Berkshire Hathaway has invested at least $16 Billion in Solar and Wind, and is looking to invest more in the sectors), in a 50:50 joint venture with the Government of Malawi, so that we can solve our energy deficiency challenges.
  7. We would like two Supermarket chains from Walmart/ Sainsbury’s/ Marks & Spencers/ Cooperative Group Food Limited to partner with another two local Malawian supermarkets in a 30:30:20:20 Joint Venture to open 10 brand new supermarkets across the country and invest at least $400 million in infrastructure, job creation for hundreds of people and adoption of best practices gleaned in other markets.
  8. Can Tony Blair persuade the leaders of the construction behemoths Laing O’rourke (£2.75 Billion -2019 revenues), Kier Group (£3.42 Billion – 2019) and Balfour Beatty (£8.4 Billion -2019) to join two carefully selected African construction companies in forming a Malawian Consortium whose members collectively invest a $500 million loan into the building and fitting of a new state of the art Public Hospital in Mzuzu, the loan being repayable over 15 years at a fixed interest rate of 20%.
  9. We would like to do deals with four world-renown hotel developers / chains with a good track record, including sound employment practices, to each help build and establish a 4-star / 5 -star hotel / golf resort along the lake, one in Monkey Bay, another in Salima, a third in Nkhatabay and a final one in Karonga, all being near the lake, with the government owning 35% of each hotel/golf resort , and a veto on major decisions.
  10. Can Tony Blair’s organisation convince Heathrow Airport Holdings and the SmithGroup (who helped design Hartsfield -Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the world’s busiest airport by passenger travel since 1998), to partner with the Department of Civil Aviation to upgrade the country’s airports and invest $1 Billion for a 40% stake in Lilongwe International Airport and Chileka Airport.
  11. Similarly, we would like to do a joint venture with DHL, UPS and ParcelForce for an Air Cargo company operating weekly cargo flights from JFK International Airport, Manchester Airport, Dubai International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport directly to Lilongwe International Airport, to help Malawians to cheaply import things, with the government of Malawi owning not less than 25% of the joint venture.
  12. …. Some other important investment imperatives you can think of…

if Tony Blair’s team can deliver on some all of these important investment commitments, and see through the signed contracts with these corporations, I wouldn’t have any qualms for the government of Malawi to even pay Tony Blair and his associates £5 million a year for the duration of their contract, so long as the projects above actually happen and there is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) associated with them coming into Malawi, and clear, quantifiable, independently verifiable and unmistakable value to Malawi’s economy, as a result of Blair’s intervention.

Failing that, I would have a clause in the contract with the Institute saying that if for whatever reason the deliverables have not materialised within 10 years from commencement of the contract, then the Institute should repay Malawians 100% the full cost of the consultancy fees plus interest.

Development – even to a poor country, does not come cheaply, so let’s be pragmatic and accept the reality.

Also, let’s make another thing very clear: Just because you have dealings with a former world leader whose politics is far from palatable doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with each and every aspect of their foreign policy.

For the longest time, Malawi had dealings with all manner of dodgy regimes like Apartheid South Africa, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) and the People’s Republic of China (PROC), let alone the Mugabe’s and the Gaddafi’s of this world. These days, we are cosying up to Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s MBS – who are far from faultless. But we didn’t (and don’t) necessarily endorse or agree with any of the controversial or plain wrong things which those leaders and their regimes did/do. Our alliances with them is purely business.

Does the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) have the capacity to successfully handle all the corruption cases in Malawi?

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Let us be honest, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Malawi is overstretched.

Even before any real big fish have been caught in its net, the ACB appears to be in trouble. Not entirely in a bad way , in fact the ACB is facing the good type of trouble in that never in its entire history has Malawi’s graft busting body have had to pursue so many allegations of corruption made against so many individuals and companies (some of whom are not even Malawian) in such a short space of time.

So, the big questions: Can the ACB cope with all the evidence and allegations currently coming out? I mean, does the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) have the capacity to successfully handle all the corruption cases in Malawi? Will they be able to effectively pursue each lead? And not just arresting suspects who are then subsequently released on bail, but ensuring that arrests end in successful prosecutions that lead to convictions.

I have serious doubts. Already, people are questioning why suspects like Roza Mbilizi and others have been released on bail. Malawians are also asking whether some of these arrests will go down the way of cases such as that against former budget director Paul Mphwiyo – who the High Court in Lilongwe ruled in May that he has a case to answer in relation to the MK2.4 billion Cashgate corruption case. It’s been 6 years, but Mphwiyo is still a free man.

Also, where was the ACB when corruption allegations regarding some of these cases were floating around?

I think for corruption to be effectively tackled in Malawi we need a new institution, one with far-reaching powers, a new mandate and a clear(er) objective.

We need an organisation that is staffed with new blood, that will adopt a new way of thinking and that is not hounded by old allegiances or suspect sympathies. What Malawi needs is a new Anti-corruption body that has zero links or partiality towards political parties; a truly independent institution that is only answerable to parliament, with no entanglements to DPP, PP, UDF, MCP, UTM or any other institution.

Unfortunately, that can’t be said of the current ACB and Reyneck Matemba, the ACB’s current Director General, knows it.

Remember here (external link) how the ACB’s current top sheriff complained about some of the difficulties he faced when pursuing suspects (also see the video below)?

Yes, have all those challenges suddenly gone away?

Of course, no one is suggesting that the ACB should be 100% perfect. But being imperfect should not be an excuse to have sacred cows. Further, with the scale of theft which President Lazarus Chakwera recently estimated to be K1 trillion (over $1.3 billion), you’d think that the bodies tasked with clamping down on corruption are going to be particularly powerful; with dogged prosecutors and an unflinching determination to get to the bottom of every single case.

Further, how likely is it that the ACB can for example concurrently commence court proceedings in the courts of London, Portugal, Switzerland or Qatar against suspects who many Malawians suspect have acquired or hidden the proceeds of corruptions in those countries – by virtue of sudden unexplained wealth which some of those suspects flaunt? The current ACB doesn’t have capacity to manage international parallel corruption probes. They would probably struggle, and it would take months if not years to go after funds that have been externalised.

Let us ask this same question in a different way: Can the ACB start investigating  the houses which certain public figures in Malawi have bought in foreign countries? Houses bought in the UK; the flats and houses bought in the US, the millions that have flowed into South Africa? If so, when will they start following the money trail?

Instead of trying to get answers with an imperfect and compromised body, I believe what is needed is a clean slate. A fresh start. A new beginning: what is needed is the National Fraud Agency (NFA).  

Malawi’s National Fraud Agency (NFA) should have powers to levy fines, powers to cancel contracts which were not signed in the best interests of the country or its citizens, and powers to impound, detain and forfeit goods, and to go after money and foreign property of officials or citizens (which is suspected of being bought using the proceeds of corruption) until the suspect can prove that such funds or property were earned legitimately, and that tax has been paid on them. The organisation should be established specifically to look at the issue of declaration of assets, externalisation of forex, to scrutinise government spending, tender awards and government contracts, and to prevent extortionate prices being charged for goods supplied to the Malawi government or to public agencies.

The NFA can work with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, but it has to be independent of the ACB. Parliament and PAC should establish a framework that decides how the NFA’s powers are to be exercised. This is important to make sure that the theft of public resources that has occured in the past in one guise or another, perpetrated by public officials including ministers, should be firmly and resolutely put to an end.

Thus, Malawi’s NFA would ensure that there is transparency and accountability, and would establish a high standard of ethics in Malawi’s politics. It would also ensure that if wrong-doing does occur, a course of action that swiftly and decisively rectifies the situation can be implemented without delay. It means unscrupulous officials can be cut-off from the business of government sooner than later, and cannot run away abroad with the proceeds of corruption – and feel as though they are beyond the reach of the law. It also means that the onus would be on the suspects to prove that they are innocent, and that their wealth, money earned or property is legitimate, and that they have paid tax on it – in accordance with Malawi’s laws. To take President Lazarus Chakwera’s lingo, it expediates justice on the “dross of sycophants

STEPPING DOWN TO STEP UP: WHY MALAWI SHOULD FOLLOW IN MADAGASCAR AND CABO VERDE’S FOOTSTEPS


A RECENT REPORT BY THE INSTITUTE FOR SECURITY STUDIES (ISS) ARGUES THAT MADAGASCAR AND CABO VERDE HAVE EVENED OUT THE ELECTORAL PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS BY LEGISLATING THE STEPPING DOWN OF AN INCUMBENT PRESIDENT PRIOR TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.

  • Listen to this article by clicking here [via SpeechKit]

These two cases are singled out as they are anomalies in Africa’s political landscape, which is marred by what the ISS’s report has termed ‘Incumbency Abuse’.
In Malawi; no elected president had ever lost a re-election, since the nation became a democracy in 1993; until this year when Peter Muntharika lost to opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera. Often, incumbents have won by a meagre percentage (38.57% in 2019, 36.4% in 2014) not representing the choice of the majority of the eligible voters.

While the First-Past-The-Post electoral system partly explains this, a large reason for these candidates being re-elected as opposed to an opposition candidate winning the election is the incumbency advantage their position gives them to garner resources for political campaigning.
The report highlights that mandating presidents seeking re-election to step down before going to the polls removes an acting president’s access to state resources for political campaign uses.

In 2015, Malawi’s then deputy Mayor for Mzuzu City, Frazer Chunga, was cited in an article by The Times Group saying his official car had been grabbed by the regional committee for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which former President Peter Muntharika heads, for campaigning use.

Such abuses would be easily mitigated by legislating the mandatory stepping down of a president seeking re-election prior to elections. Additionally, this would put all candidates on par, with the exception of an incumbent being able to show what developmental goals (if any) have been achieved nationally during their tenure.
Furthermore, the ISS finds that instituting a mandatory stepping aside of an acting president would assist in “addressing negative perceptions of voter manipulation and vote-rigging which have contributed to post-electoral violence and political instability on the continent [of Africa].”

This is of high relevance to Malawi as the country has gone to the polls for the second time in two years on the 23rd of June 2020.

Since Muntharika was announced re-elected in May 2019, Malawi had experienced a year of public demonstrations let by CSOs including the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), who claimed that the last elections were rigged and highly manipulated by the incumbent. Thousands of citizens joined the HRDC in support of the protests, culminating in the Constitutional Court nullifying the 2019 poll in favour of fresh elections.

Thus, the stepping down of a president to avoid even the perception of tampering with the electoral process would go a long way in promoting post-electoral peace and stability and insuring that issues of malpractice are resolved independently.
The report however, does state that the stepping down of a president before an election, is not a fool-proof mechanism to mitigating the problem of incumbency abuse. Presidents are still able to control systems, making them work in their favor though not being in power. This being said, systems can always be improved, checked, and completely rewritten. As such, while being a concern, it does not negate the call for presidents to set aside their presidential duties until post-elections.
In a nutshell, with rising impunity and incumbency abuse in the African continent, the recommendation of the ISS for other African countries to follow the examples of Madagascar and Cabo Verde should be seriously considered by policy-makers if Africa is to truly work towards free and fair elections for all.

And while Malawi has broken the cycle of an incumbent president never losing, the ushering in of the new regime should not be viewed as the solution to all incumbency abuse. Let us see if when the time comes, Chakwera will be able to step down, to step up.

How to ensure that high profile people in Malawi face Justice for their corrupt practices.

While in the last hour news has reached us of the arrest of Peter Mutharika’s aide Norman Chisale, who has been accused of widespread corrupt practices, there have been many complaints over the last few weeks regarding the Anti-corruption Bureau(ACB), the official body tasked with clamping down on corrupt practices in Malawi.

Malawians are dissatisfied with the pace and direction in which the ACB is taking. Many are saying that the authorities are only targeting low-level criminals, while the big fish, the high-profile politicians who have been accused of corrupt practices at one point or another, are not being pursued, or are not being pursued quick enough.

Some people have even said that if high profile criminals are not arrested then those low level people who have been arrested might as well just be released and set free because it’s not fair that only the common people are pursued when it comes to corruption.

Now while building a convincing case against someone accused of corruption can take time, I believe many of us are missing the point.

The scale and level of corruption in Malawi was so deep, so systemic, so perverse, so pervasive, so widespread and so flagrant that the ACB is unlikely to have the human resource to deal with all the complaints that are being unearthed quick enough.


What is needed instead is Citizen Power; Citizen Action, for people to get together and gather the evidence required to build a successful Anti-corruption case. This evidence can then be used by Human Rights organisations to commence Anti-corruption actions in the courts in Malawi, but where the ACB and others can then join as interested parties.

Such a tactic would ensure that no one gets away with wrongdoing, and would force the authorities to pursue people who are perceived to be untouchable, for all sorts of reasons.
Of course ideally the ACB should take the lead in commencing such prosecutions. But when that is not yet possible, in all cases involving high profile suspects, I think it falls on the people of Malawi to do something.

Mind you, it wasn’t the ACB that led the way for the Tonse Alliance Government to come into power. Instead it was Malawians who organised and created a powerful movement that exposed the widespread irregularities which led to the nullification of the 2019 elections. It was the same Malawians who demonstrated day in and day out for 10 months+, culminating in a new election that toppled the corrupt regime of Peter Mutharika.

So we should not abdicate our responsibility to our country, by expecting the impossible from the ACB. This is the same ACB that has failed to to investigate tens of corruption cases over the last 20+ years.
Thus, it is definitively up to Malawians to build convincing Anti-corruption cases against all the figures we believe, who we know or who have good reason, and evidence to believe, stole from Mother Malawi.

Why Peter Mutharika’s recent outbursts are evidence confirming he is out of touch with poor Malawians

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Last week,  the president of Malawi came out to angrily defend his New York Trip, and justified hiring a private jet (amidst an economic crisis), and taking out a large entourage to the UN, which he said was 106 strong, not 110 as most media outlets had initially reported. Basically, he rubbished the claims as the ones I wrote about here.

Mutharika claimed that many of the people who went with him were either self sponsored, or sponsored by other organisations. He also claims that the hired private jet was used only for the five-hour trip between Lilongwe and Dubai, and not for the entirety of his US Trip, as some media outlets claimed.

Complete with banging of his fist against the table, and language which is definitely not statesmanlike (‘nonsense’ and ‘stupid’ are two of the words the president used), language which is reminiscent of the last days of former president Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter Mutharika told Malawians that he was already a millionaire when he entered politics, and that he can’t steal from them. He said he hired the jet because he did not want to wait at airports for 10 hours ‘like a fool’. He also called for an apology from those who criticised him, including from Zodiak radio and the Malawi Congress Party.

However many people have been irked by his outbursts, probably more so than the initial transgression, suggesting that his anger shows just out of touch he really is with ordinary Malawians.

And here’s why:-

  • In the interest of transparency why have we not been told the names of all the organisations which funded some of the delegates? Shouldn’t Malawians be told which organisations funded which individuals if what the president is saying is to believable? Further, shouldn’t these organisations tell us exactly why the funded such people, and what benefit that ‘investment ‘ would have for Malawi in the short to long term ? In addition, shouldn’t those organisations who privately funded members of Mutharika’s entourage speak up and justify why they couldnt have used their monies to fund much more pressing issues, such as funding district hospitals for example, which just this August Voice of America reported that they had reduced the meals they gave to patients to one meal a day, from the recommended three. Couldn’t those organisastions instead use the money they had to help employ the recent graduated doctors the government was failing to give jobs to? If the government cannot tell Malawians how many people were paid for by the tax payer, and exactly how many people were privately funded, and which those organisations were, then its difficult to take seriously what Mutharika said during that press conference.
  • Further, if these organisations he talks about cannot justify in black and white their reasons for paying for such a large entourage, and the direct benefits to the country – at such a difficult time for many Malawians, then they too are part of the problem holding Malawi backwards. Because which sane human being goes out to blow $600,000 + on flights and accomodation to New York when there are people who are dying because of lack of medical equipment in the hospitals; equipment which would cost a small fraction of that sum to repair? When we are told that 2.8 million people face hunger due to food shortages caused by the most recent floods? How about the exercise of empathy? The exercise of good judgement, and genuine exemplary leadership….
  • About the private jet, I’ll let someone else do the talking. For some strange reason, Malawian presidents always seem to get into trouble with private jets:
  • Ntata
  • That comment (“no single African leader went to New York on a Commercial Jet ” ) in the president’s speech is simply appalling…. because how many African countries are struggling in the same way that Malawi is suffering? How many African countries have as many shortages, a struggling economy, low poorly paid workers, hunger and high crime rates, how many have a free-falling currency, how many are grappling with a corruption crisis in which at least $2 billion went missing? How many are failing to improve their economies as Malawi is due to all these problems? So if Malawi’s problems are unique in a twisted kind of way, why should our president compare us with others who are flourishing, or at least doing far much better?
  • About the president’s comments of a ‘vicious kind of politics’..One must wonder why the President won’t take positive criticsm, acknowledge his mistakes, and apologise for bad judgement. It’s the president who must apologise to poor Malawians, not Zodiak or MCP…Why would people criticise him if he was doing what was right? It’s not the first time people have criticised a Malawian government or a Malawian leader over excess or bad decisions. From recollection, I remember very well that commentators and the media criticised Bakili Muluzi’s government when they made bad decisions; they criticised Bingu’s government when he erred, and most recently they criticised Joyce Banda – because of her government’s constant mistakes. Why then does Peter Mutharika think he is immune to criticsm?

Malawi needs a leader who is more like Mahatma Ghandi, or Fidel Castro, and not an out of control lover of luxury and pleasure that brings to mind dictators like Benito Mussolini.

The International minnows and their minions

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The term Minnow is an English noun used to denote a small freshwater Eurasian fish of the carp family, which typically forms large shoals.  The term has been used (among other definitions) to denote something that is small or insignificant, be it a person or an organization.

And I’m using it as the subject of this article because last week, the Hindustan Times quoted international affairs expert Dr Kanti Bajpai, who is professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School in Singapore, as saying India’s Narendra Modi’s decision not to make an address to the United Nations General Assembly at the 70th session may be interpreted as siding with an Indian school of foreign policy that doesn’t ‘..want to be in the company of the international minnows too long’

The writer of the article quotes Modi to have said of such international gatherings like the UN General Assembly, that there are “Lots of small countries with their small problems.”

It is therefore somewhat surprising, amusing let alone ironic when you read that some countries are taking large entourages to the very same gatherings at which they are somewhat frowned upon by delegates of much larger countries.

Uhuru Kenyatta travelled with 40 people, Malawi’s Peter Mutharika took an entourage said to have been around 110 members, whereas the Prime minister of Bangladesh had an entourage of 227 members!

Before he left, Peter Mutharika gave a speech which some commentators claim was effectively an SOS over Malawi’s problems. So why then take such a large entourage when he claims that Malawi is in trouble? In particular, the Government of Malawi recently conducted a Food Security assessment for the 2015 / 2016 period, which concluded that

  a total of 2,833,212 people will not be able to meet their annual food requirementt during the 2015/16 consumption period. This represents 17 per cent of the country’s total population.

It went on to state that the Government needed US$146.378 million to procure 124 thousand metric tons of maize to prevent a food shortage crisis which could quickly develop into a humanitarian crisis.

If Malawi had done some deals with investors and the economy was recovering, why would anyone sensible question the wisdom of going to the UN with a whole horde of people?

If Mutharika was taking the top 100 businessmen from across the country, irrespective of party affiliation (as most western leaders do when they travel to say Saudi Arabia, India or China)  to scout for opportunities, collaborations or business or to attend strategic meetings, why would anyone sensible question it?

The problem is Malawi is currently free-falling, Oil and gas licensing were suspended, the floods devastated land and crops, and will affect harvest, donors have pulled out of budgetary support and are refusing to resume, even the IMF has closed the taps, and you have a president taking loads of people to New York???

Between the president’s departure last week and today, we’ve learned that:-

  • The government of Malawi will be spending ~ K144million Kwacha on the airfares of Mutharika’s entourage.
  • That K238 million is being spent on accommodation alone for 111 people.  That makes a total of K352 million ($636,000) of taxpayer’s money being spent on Accommodation and airfares, without accounting for allowances, which are not coming in cheap.
  • That the president has hired a private jet – a Bombardier Global Express at a cost of US$4 million for the duration of th trip.
  • Speculation on social networks online is that the President’s step son is part of the entourage, as well as a chief and a PE teacher. We do not know if this is true, or why they went? How will their inclusion benefit the country or indeed what will they add to the trip?? Surely Malawians must be told why were they selected and what they will add to the trip?
  • Also part of the entourage is a lady who accompanied Mutharika only because the first lady is on the trip.
  • From one ministry 3 Directors went to New York, each with an allowance upwards of K9 million (US$16,000, and that’s besides the other staff members accompanying them)
  • Peter Mutharika and Ben Phiri are travelling separately so that they shouldn’t be seen in the same place, to give the false impression that Ben Phiri is not working for the government even when in reality he still is working for Mutharika.
  • There are some who claim the UN is paying for the trip, but our sources including some people close to government officials dispute this. Malawi is going to pay for their own bill, and any news that the UN is footing the bill is designed to mislead. If donors are paying why haven’t they explicitly declared so, seeing the situation in the country?
  • Last year, someone who went to the 69th Session of UN with the president blurted out in a drunken stupor,that he had been paid $10,500 for the days he was in New York. There is no reason to suspect that the officials accompanying Mutharika are being paid less this time around. Or is there?

Last year, Mutharika returned from a trip to the US and Malawians were told that he had received promises (or was it signed agreements) of investment totalling around US$600 million from some investors. While I can’t recall how many people he took along with him for that trip, how many of those investment promises he received have since materialised into real investment or real tangible projects?

I think there is need for more accountability and responsibility on the part of the presidency. Minimally, I think numbers of officials going to the UN should be capped at a figure such as 13, and allowances of officials of African government should be capped at modest sums. In particular, why should the head of state of a poor country sleep in Waldorf Astoria in New York , paying over $10,000 or is it $15,000 a night when millions of his country’s citizen are struggling with daily life, and live on less than $3 a day?  I think just as a matter of concern for other humans, for other people, just out of what in Malawi we call umunthu, expenses for all officials including the president should be capped at $500 a night. You can’t be that insensitive when people, real people in your country are suffering. It can never be right, and such selfishness is the cause of all human problems. I’ve seen this attitude again and again amongst the ruling class (even in Britain). There are some people who assume that just because they are doing well financially, everyone should be doing relatively okay. This is never the case.

So, all that these expensive trips do is give credibility to critics who dismiss them as self-enrichment schemes, which on some level they are.

When will Malawians leaders learn to be accountable? With all the poverty our country faces, should we really be throwing money around like this?

I think we should legislate to have laws that can remove representatives if they are unable to meet the expectations of their constituencies, or if they abuse their power. I think that is the way forward to counter corruption and self-enrichment.

Also, when the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria, took around 30 people (according to NAIJ.COM the number is 22) to the UN, does it really make sense for tiny Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Sub Saharan Africa, to be taking entire clans, complete with chiefs to New York?

Perspective

For those of you who say the amount Peter Mutharika will be spending is minimal, lets not forget that there are many American tech giants which began with capital of less than $4 million let alone $635,000. Facebook for example, a company now worth billions of dollars, once received $500,000 in seed funding from Peter Thiel , the PayPal Co-founder, in 2004, for a 10% stake. My point, the money Mutharika is wasting can be better invested into ventures that could greatly benefit the country in the short to medium term; it can be invested into young people, instead of blowing it on luxury and unnecessary spending at the expense of an already burdened tax payer.

One final thing … 🙂  the word minion. A minion, for those who do not know, is defined as a follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one. Where in Narendra Modi’s reality that definition places Mutharika’s 110 underlings is anybody’s guess.