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.

Area 18 Interchange - Malawi

An intertwined road Interchange in Malawi got the whole country talking

Call me a cynic, but sometimes the country of my birth baffles me to the point I wonder: Is this really happening?

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a brief: Malawi’s capital Lilongwe recently saw the opening of a new intertwined road interchange, named ‘Area 18 Interchange’. And because nothing like it ever existed in the country before, loads of Malawians began talking about it. The excitement soon reached fever pitch, to the point people were going out of their ways to go to the location of this interchange, to see it with their own eyes and observe the traffic criss-crossing its roads. Malawi’s president even visited the site the other day and stated his government’s commitment to develop the country’s cities through construction of transformative pieces of infrastructure.

Now you might say thats not a big deal, people in the developing world get excited about all sorts of ordinary things which westerners take for granted. And you are right. But what irked me was the hero-worship that followed, in that some Malawians began to claim that the construction of the road is one of the major achevements of former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika.

At which point I snapped.

It’s just a road. A tiny road for that matter. that if you go to other countries, you’ll find bigger and much better intertwined junctions… its no big deal.

On a much more reflective note, other people rate their leaders on substantive material things they achieved in their lifetimes. Achievements of huge significance that impact thousands of people, in some cases literary changing the course of history. To give a flavour, how about ending slavery as an achievement, defeating Nazism, ending the colonisation of a country, developing a Nuclear Weapon, giving the vote to women, presiding over a large National Economic Transformation (The New Deal); ending Apartheid and becoming the first black president of South Africa, lifting over 800 million people out of poverty(as China has done) …

How ridiculous do you think Malawi appears, when faced with a list of such noble and grand achievements, we’re in some corner hollering and worshiping a former leader based on a tiny road interchange that was built under their watch?? In 2020?

Is that really how low our standards have fallen? Kamuzu Banda must be spinning in his grave…

Some of these people need to visit Durban, Nairobi, Kigali or Addis Ababa- to see what real development looks like …

Let me tell you what I believe. Its no secret that countries like Rwanda, Botswana, Malaysia, and South Korea were at one point in the 50’s and 60’s on the same level of development as Malawi. But unlike Malawi, they chose to develop and made significant strides out of poverty to become middle income countries. It was a deliberate and sustained intervention to match and be level with some of the best.

Now you might say our politics were different at that time, we had an inward-looking dictator more concerned with self-preservation, and you are right. But since the start of multiparty democracy, we’ve had 26 years in which to “catch-up”. But there’s been nothing to show for.

And yet, our contemporaries also faced innumerable challenges. Like us, they didn’t have enough money. Their people weren’t that educated. In fact if you look at where we are, we probably have more incentives to develop that countries like South Korea or Botswana had in the 60’s and 70’s. The difference is while we sometimes appear comfortable in our sorry state, these countries were not content with mediocrity or token gestures. I mean, when was the last time you heard of an aid organisation working to feed hungry children in Souh Korea?

These countries decided they needed to create economies that could stand side by side with some of the largest economies in the world. Economies that were resilient to existential shocks. And it is high time we did the same.

In Malawi, we have to be careful not to let our historical excuses and well-rehearsed pragmatism (the “Malawian standards” / “crawl before you can run” excuses), ending up being main obstacles in our path to development. I’ve said it here several times before, but we really have to raise the bar on what counts as development, and what is raw and unmistakable mediocrity.

Peter Mutharika (like him or hate him) didn’t do much to develop Malawi because he was not a transformational leader. There was no blueprint, no grand plan, no credible and actionable dream, no rhetoric to charge and fire up people’s imaginations. His leadership, busied by tribalism, corruption and deceit – left much to be desired, and there was more bluster than implementation. If you don’t believe me, just look at the promises that were made in DPP’s 2014 Manifesto and compare with what was actually achieved by 2019.

In Malawi, we say of undeserved promotions that “Anangogweramo” , meaning Mutharika just fell into it. It was an accidental selection, and he wouldn’t have ended up as a leader of a party and the country if not for his brother pulling him into DPP’s Politburo.

But this post isn’t about the Mutharikas and DPP’s woes.

Malawi has to start seeking capable operators who will move us forward as a country. We have to begin to seriously empower people who are qualified and know how to build and develop a country and have the force of character to deliver on promises. Osati zongochitikira mwa ngozi.

There’s another equally important aspect to all this.

If a tiny road intersection has got the whole country excited, what do you think foreign dignitaries will think of us, as a nation? What do you think they will report to their countries, as ways in which to pacify or otherwise impress our people? Imagine how all the ruthless and pushy countries, even a China omwewa will deal with us, when they know it takes very little to impress our people… ?

We have to press the reset button on what we regard as development. Toilets that look like ma sakasa, Airport terminals towoneka ngati khola la nkhuku, tima bridge ta make dzana… and yes your little interchange, they’re all not signs of development in the context of the 21st Century. Because there are such things as global standards, and we have to pull up our socks in this area and begin to match the rest of the world. Rwanda and Kenya are doing it, why can’t we?

In any case, how can you possibly attract investment in the form of a factory (say Chevrolet, Nissan or Kia for argument’s sake), or how can you seriously attract a tech giant’s assebling facility (APPLE, IBM, HP, MICROSOFT) and compete against the likes of Ethiopia or Kenya – who have impressive infrastructure and who are doing far more to attract foreign corporations to set up shop in those countries, when your own infrastructure leaves plenty to be desired?

Saulos Chilima & the Devil

There comes a point in a leader’s life when they have a critical choice over an important matter. The decision they make defines them forever.

Saulos Chilima & wife
© AFP. Saulos Klaus Chilima, accompanied by his wife, Mary, waits to be screened at Lilongwe High Court, where judges later annulled the May 2019 election,Lilongwe, Feb. 3, 2020.(Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

There is a little known African proverb which says Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.

It’s a metaphor which has been interpreted to mean people can achieve great things as a group rather than as individuals even when faced with danger; its the classic proverb meant to encourage collective action against innumerable or otherwise monumental challenges, even when there is danger (symbolised by the crocodile) and an obstacle or uncertainty of large proportions (i.e. the river).

But the metaphor can also be invoked to mean if someone undertakes an action together with a majority, they are unlikely to face the wrath of the masses (symbolised by the crocodile) sometime down the line since when making the decision, the person didn’t think only about themselves but took the decision (i.e. crossing the river) together with the crowd.

However, the kind of ‘crowd’ (and more generally partners) one chooses to mingle or intertwine themselves with when faced with a challenge matters.

While some crowds can elevate you, and propel you to greater heights far beyond your original standing, other partnerships can pull you down or even destroy you altogether (‘feed you to the crocodiles’). Knowing one from the other can be the difference between survival and catastrophe.

Malawi has recently experienced a monumental and historic moment in its democracy. In a landmark judgement, Saulos Klaus Chilima & Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera v Arthur Peter Mutharika & Electoral Commission, a unanimous bench of the High Court of Malawi sitting as a Constitutional Court nullified the country’s May 2019 elections and ordered that fresh elections be held in 150 days. Malawi is the second African country to nullify a presidential election, after Kenya. The court further held that a proper interpretation of section 80(2) of the Constitution of Malawi requires that presidential candidates garner 50% + 1 votes to be duly elected, effectively striking down the first past the post system for presidential elections.

However, now that the Constitutional Court has clarified the 50% +1 issue, it means it will now be difficult for any political party to win an outright majority in an election. It means parties must enter into alliances to be able to form a government, as is the case in many other countries around the world.

Critically, it also means Saulos Chilima and his United Transformation Movement (UTM) party will most likely become the kingmakers. This gives him a lot of influence because it means whoever he decides to work with will have to offer concessions or policy promises which appease the UTM block, which only has 4 MPs in Malawi’s 193 member Parliament.

There has been speculation that Saulos Chilima is open to working wth the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Peter Mutharika, the same party from which he resigned in 2018. In particular, several sources have told me that senior advisers around Chilima think it is feasible and not preposterous for UTM to get into an Alliance with DPP to contest the upcoming fresh elections, which the Constitutional Court ordered should be held within 150 days of its judgement.

Mind you, this is the same DPP which has been called by some Malawians as “our common enemy”. It is the Same DPP which has presided over numerous corruption cases, over accusations of nepotism and cronyism; a government that tried to intimidate those protesting in the streets and labelled them terrorists, shielding police officers when they committed sexual assault and raped women and girls in Msundwe. The DPP government has abandoned our hospitals in Malawi as people die because of inadequate medical care and lack of medicines while party cronies swim in unexplained wealth, and can afford medical attention abroad; this is the party that said nothing regarding an attempted bribery of the judges presiding over the Constitutional Court case – resulting in an unknown magistrate quashing the warrant of arrest of one of the suspects of the bribery (later the warrant was restored by a High Court Judge).

But most of all, the DPP government has presided over a corrupt, rotten and unprofessional electoral body, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) which the Constitutional Court revealed conspired with DPP to defraud the people of Malawi, of a free and fair election.

Is that really the kind of party Chilima now wants to associate, let along re-align with?

When Saulos Chilima left DPP, he insinuated many things about his old party’s excesses. Among the things he said were the following words, which many thought pointed to the rot within DPP. In an interview with Reuters News Agency, Chilima said: “I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on”

I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on

So contrast those words with the murmurs that a UTM – DPP alliance is still on the cards, and it’s easy to see why some of his supporters are livid.

Whether he realises it or not, this is the moment when ‘the dark side’ attempts to coerce an upstanding leader who up until now has made more right moves than wrong ones; this is the moment dark forces attempt to seduce someone into lowering their political standards against their better judgement, with potentially catastrophic consequences; a wanton and reckless decision devoid of any wisdom or forethought, one that would destroy their reputation, including any good fortune, high esteem held or respect the public had of them.

Here, a bit of context is necessary in that most of the people around Chilima have never held political office, either as elected representatives, or by being appointed to an official role besides an elected representative. So you’d think some of the advice they give will at best be taken with a pinch of salt.

But Chilima’s predicament is not unique to him or indeed Malawi. Many other leaders throughout history and in literature have been faced with challenging situations of one type or another.

This is the moment narrated in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, when Jesus no doubt exhausted and hungry from fasting forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, is taken by the devil to a very high mountain and showed all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. The devil says to him in Mathew 4 verse 9: “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” to which Jesus replies: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”

When Geroge W. Bush was president, the unholy cabal of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other hawks convinced the malleable Bush with feeble if not dodgy intelligence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). A decision to go to war led to the deaths of over 300,000 Iraqi civilians, (500,000+ people according to other estimates[Washington Post]) and forever labelled ‘Dubya’ , as he was nicknamed, as the US president who took the US into a phoney war. Not only did the Iraq War completely destroy large parts of Iraq, but it spurred hatred against the US in the region, and directly led to the rise of extremist groups, including that known as ISIS.

This is the moment Nick Clegg, former leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats Party made the ultimate political error by allowing the UK’s Conservative Party under David Cameron (with whom the Liberals were in a coalition government, following an election that produced a hung parliament) to overrule his most important policy commitments on University Tuition fees; a mistake so grave it angered his party’s core supporters who punished the Liberal Democrats at the next election (held in 2015); his party’s MPs were fumigated from parliament like rats flushed out of a rat hole. They lost a whopping 49 seats and Clegg resigned as leader!

This is the moment in July 2011 when faced with demonstrations in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Karonga, Bingu Wa Mutharika ordered a crackdown instructing riot police to fire teargas and live bullets in confronting them, leading to the deaths of 18 people. Malawians never forgave Bingu for that one single act.

It is akin to the moment Aung San Suu Kyi, once celebrated internationally as a champion of democracy, ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, rape and forced deportation in Rakhine state in Burma, and did little to act and protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims, even after a UN fact-finding mission investigated the allegations and found compelling evidence that it said the Burmese army must be investigated for genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

Malawians have been taken for fools for a long time, and their peaceful nature and hopeful trust in strong-men (“abiggie”), abused by politicians of all colours; the kind who make false promises (“I will turn Malawi into Germany“) that can’t possibly be fulfilled.

But if there is one certain thing the recent protests in Lilongwe and across the country have shown, it is that Malawians will no longer be taken for fools. Going forward, no one will take the people of Malawi for granted anymore: Not donors, not foreign election observers, not local political parties, not local party leaders, not chiefs, not foreign investors, not Chinese investors …. NO ONE!

So, whatever Saulos Klaus Chilima decides to do now, whether to listen to the blue imp perched on his left shoulder whispering falsities into his left ear, or whether to heed the red imp on his right shoulder – the tambala wakuda – he can be certain without a shadow of a doubt of one thing: that the Malawian people are watching his every move. And that what he does next will most-definitely be his legacy that will define him forever.

Why didn’t successive Malawi Governments act to stop the looting of US$2 billion+ from government accounts?

Photo Credit: Nation Publications Limited
Photo Credit: Nation Publications Limited

Before any talk of a new IFMIS is taken seriously, Malawians need to be told how much money is missing from government accounts, and why successive governments failed to stop the recklessness and impunity that has led to the loss of at least US$2 billion from Malawi Government accounts the last 6 years.

Anything less is simply not acceptable. And I must say that task could have some serious casualties, complete with more blood than seeped out of Mphwiyo’s gunshot wounds.

Lets see, under DPP’s watch at least US$500 million went missing. That’s only from 2009 to 2012. Who knows what happened before that? Who knows how much was lost between May 2004 to December 2008, or even before that during Muluzi’s tenure?  Do we have the audits going back all the way? Should we have such audits so that there is full accountability? In any case, if there is no accountability how can the system be fixed?

What about aMai? From the depths of her self-imposed exile, what does Joyce Banda and her people’s party have to say for themselves about presiding over the loss of at least US$400 million? And this is only from sums over MK1 million, as I tried to explain here.

I think Malawians deserve to know.

If it is accepted that at least US$2 billion has been misappropriated the last 6 years, then both the government of Bingu Wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda’s government had access to the same IFMIS reviews and reports which contained advice on how to tackle the problems in the government financial system. Make no mistake the PwC report is not the first!

This is not about finger-pointing, but understanding where things when wrong. The question remains, why didn’t Bingu Wa Mutharika, or Joyce Banda (and their officials) plug the holes to the government financial systems when they each had the chance?

When they were informed of the loopholes on numerous occasions? When people at the National Audit Office, at the Ministry of Finance and at OPC knew what needed to be done.

Did it really have to take Mphwiyo’s blood for the issue to come to the fore? And millions of dollars spent on international accountancy firms – churning out dubious reports? When numerous official reports had been commissioned previously, pinpointing the problems, and how to fix them?

I don’t think so.

Watch this space to learn why.

WHO IS CONTROLLING THE SECOND MUTHARIKA?

puppet-122915_640by Z Allan Ntata.

After almost a year in power, the dust has now settled on the hullabaloo that was the rise of Peter Mutharika to the presidency of the Republic of Malawi. What can now be observed clearly is the familiar Mutharika curse that led to the decline and fall of his late brother’s otherwise purpose-filled presidency.

Anyone familiar with Malawi and the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s presidency will testify to the fact that one of the issues that aroused the anger and disapproval of the late Bingu for many Malawians was his eagerness in allowing himself to be influenced by the Muhlakho wa Alomwe ethnic grouping. The invasion of this grouping into the affairs of state, especially the presidency, led to the kind of cronyism and nepotism that reminded people of Dr Hastings Banda’s days in which the Chewa people had over 90% of the national cake. Such behaviour was certainly one of the reasons that late Bingu’s second term ended on a note of severe controversy.

Peter Mutharika should not be deluded into thinking that Malawians have forgotten the DPP low points; the unjustified authoritarianism, the lack of essential political reforms, the governance challenges, the vain celebrations, and most of all, the Mulhako cronyism.

Although Peter Mutharika seems to have borne in mind that at one point in his late brother’s administration, about half of the cabinet was Lhomwe, he seems to have failed to recognise the danger of trusting too much in one or two confidants without proper justification.

In late Bingu’s administration, we saw at one point that senior cabinet ministers such as Justice Minister Prof. Peter Mutharika, Minister of Education Dr. George Chaponda, Minister of Tourism Anna Kachikho, Gender and Women Affairs Minister Patricia Kaliati, Trade and Industry minister Eunice Kazembe, Minister of Irrigation Richie Muheya, Deputy Finance minister Nihorya, Deputy Lands and Housing Minister T. Gowelo, Deputy Disabilities Minister Felton Mulli, Deputy Information Minister Kingsley Namakhwa, and Deputy Education Minister V. Sajeni were all from the Lhomwe belt.

We also saw that principal Secretaries in key ministries also reflected a pattern that favoured the same Mulhako kinsmen and that within the Executive big institutions were also assigned to Lhomwes. These included ADMARC General Manager Dr. Charles Matabwa, ADMARC Finance Director Foster Mulumbe, ADMARC Head of Administration George Bakuwa, Auction Holdings CEO Evance Matabwa, NFRA boss Edward Sawelengera, Immigration Chief Elvis Thodi, Anti Corruption Bureau Director Alex Nampota, Director of Intelligence Clement Kapalamula, Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito, Chairperson Malawi Electoral Commission, Anastanzia Msosa, Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Clerk of Parliament Maltilda Katopola, Attorney General Jane Ansah, Secretary to Treasury Randson Madiwa, General Manager Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) Mondiwa, MBC- Director General Patrick Khoza, Reserve Bank Governer Perks Ligoya, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) Commissioner General Lloyd Muhara, Blantyre City Assembly Chief Executive Ted Nandolo and Malawi Savings Bank CEO Joseph Mwanamvekha.

More importantly, late Bingu was controlled to a significant extent by Leston Mulli and the top Mulhako wa Alhomwe brass that included individuals such as Jean Namathanga and Noel Masangwi. These people formed the President’s unofficial advisory council on governance, public appointments and political strategy.
The fact that Malawians are quiet now should not delude the current Mutharika into thinking that Malawians are not noticing that a similar trend has already emerged. Speaking to ministers and government insiders, it is apparent that the country is not really being ruled by Peter Mutharika, but the power behind the power that is a clique of special assistants, bodyguards and certain relatives.

But surely the learned professor of Law knows that Malawians gave a governing mandate to Peter Mutharika, and not to any of his personal assistants, doesn’t he? Does the Professor not know that the ruling mandate was given to him and the DPP on the basis, in part, of his solemn pleas that the DPP had changed and should be forgiven for past mishaps such as the nepotism and cronyism mentioned above? Does he not realise that Malawians expected that the DPP would honour that forgiveness by following a new political path, a different style of political leadership and governance, with appointments based solely on merit and in recognition of the contribution that various individuals have put towards supporting this country and their bid for the presidency?

The simple fact is that as learned as he is, the professor knows these things. The problem appears to be the fact that his administrative powers have been relinquished to his assistants and advisors. This relinquishing of his administrative powers to his personal assistant, and the warmth and cosiness that he is again displaying with the Muhlako old guard is not only disturbing, but may indeed be a cause for worry as to the direction of his presidency, and whether the so-called new and changed DPP was simply such in rhetoric only.

During its two years of exile, many talented and capable young men and women led the DPP push to power. These need to be given an opportunity to now utilise their talents in promoting a national development agenda. It will be an affront to public trust demonstrated in the vote to ignore and overlook these able individuals simply because one or two personal assistants, advisors or even valets (imagine that!) are in control and only their cronies can assist the leadership.

Indeed, it would be useful to remind the President that critics are already waiting in the wings and will soon come out of the woodwork with their pens blazing. It seems to be rather unwise to provide critics with ammunition in the form of competent CVs overlooked on important positions simply because they were not endorsed by one or two personal assistants or that they fall on the wrong side of the ethnic divide.

Furthermore, certain leadership blunders are already becoming evident: The misguided graffiti painting of Lumbadzi police cells, the seriously dubious asset declaration, the suspicious sale of MSB Bank just to name a few. Are these ideas consistent with a supremely learned professor of law with donkey’s years of experience? The answer is probably No- although anything is possible in politics!

How does one identify a puppet? You know you are dealing with a puppet when every time you try to say something to the puppet, the puppet says: Talk to my assistant, the guy pulling the strings.

Given the high intellectual respect with which President Arthur Peter Mutharika is regarded in the country and internationally, perhaps the time has come to ask the question publicly instead of simply joining those asking it in secret: Who really is controlling Peter Mutharika?

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Z. Allan Ntata is a Barrister of Middle Temple, Governance Specialist, Ex-Counsel to the President of Malawi and author of “Trappings of Power”. More details about him can be found on his website

 

Commemorating the midnight 6 ‘heroes’

Writing about Malawian politics is never an easy thing to do. It seems that every week that passes, Malawian politicians have the knack to upset the taxpayers with their endless habits of misusing government funds. As a writer, sometimes one is compelled to write about positive things about politicians, but it proves difficult when our politicians keep plunging the future of Malawi into the abyss. It becomes a tiring chore to always write negative things about politicians all the time, because in the end it is the writer that looks like an ‘ambulance chaser’. But once again, here are more negative passages about our politicians.

First of all, I want to understand what warrants Peter Mutharika and his cohorts to think they are ‘heroes’, when they were arrested on treason charges regarding the alleged plot which tried to usurp power from Joyce Banda? I want to understand how their warped thinking decided that their alleged ‘treasonous acts’ on that fateful day are worthy of remembrance?? If power really corrupts, our politicians have really lost touch with reality and are living in their own hallucinations of misguided grandiosity.

It was on 6th April 2012 when a group of executive government officials on MBC TV, read out a statement that rejected the vice president Joyce Banda’s ascendancy to power as per constitutional requirements. Fear gripped the whole country for no-one knew what was happening due the manner the ‘midnight 6’s’ blatantly reckless attempts to acquire power at all cost.

The 6th of April in 2012 should be commemorated as a victory for democracy, because if it was another country, the midnight 6’s statement was a call for civil war.

So with such a background, I wonder how the midnight 6 are able to think that their disdainful and contemptible deeds are somehow worthy of commemoration? If anything, it is an embarrassment for our nation to have people of their position, commemorating their reckless actions that led them to be in jail in the first place. It’s as mad as the US government trying to commemorate the birth of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln – an insult to democracy.

The spectre of handing out medals to the midnight 6 participants is a pathetic attempt to rewrite history under false pretexts. It makes me worry for Malawi to observe that these are the people that are supposed to work to make our lives better. The midnight 6 are really in their own cocoon where a sordid romanticism has taken over their minds.

In the real world, history is not going to look kindly upon the midnight 6, for it was these same individuals that nearly plunged this country into chaos following their alleged power plot. The day Bingu died could have been the worst day for politics in Malawi, because what the midnight 6 was suggesting was detrimental to the constitution and principles of representative democracy.

The backbone of democracy is the constitution, and if a country disregards the clauses of the many sections inscribed in the constitution, institutions are weakened, and chaos becomes the order of the day. Malawi has many problems but the constitution needs to be respected at all costs because if we lose that, then our democracy is for nothing. Then we’re no different from the likes of Somalia. And if the midnight 6 had been successful in grabbing power from Joyce Banda, it would have set a bad precedence for the country’s respect for the rule of law.

Historically, Malawians have always been been a peaceful people and have been tolerant of the many mistakes politicians make, including the events that led to the midnight 6 scandal. But never be fooled, for peaceful people also have a limit to their complacency, and their is no telling how events would have transpired if the midnight 6 were triumphant in their unconstitutional pursuit of power.

I therefore fail to understand how Peter’s Mutharika’s political advisors decided that the events of the ‘midnight 6’ is something Malawians want to remember. If anything, we should be commemorating the day the constitution of Malawi prevailed over the wishes of a few unscrupulous individuals. The people that need to inscribe their names on the wall of freedom are those that refused to allow the unconstitutional power grab of the midnight 6.

I believe that this ‘midnight 6 commemoration’ is a stain to a hero like Orton Chirwa who spent years and died in a prison cell, without ever having the chance to inscribe his name on Zomba’s prison walls. Oh what a shame that Malawi has never sought to commemorate Orton Chirwa’s imprisonment as a stark reminder of political injustice that once plagued this country.

All in all, history will be judged by our future compatriots. It is not up to us to inscribe our names on the walls of Malawi for our heroic deeds. For the future might just erase all those names with paint to forget the embarrassment that is the midnight 6. Ask Gaddafi and Saddam, whose grand statues now lay in ruins. If Malawi wants more heroes, the midnight 6 are not it.

Strengthening Civil Society Organisations in Malawi

CSO-imageWhen a marriage has hit the rocks, one of the most common remedies in the modern world is for the couple to go for marital counselling. To visit a marriage counsellor. It doesn’t always help, and sometimes a matrimonial union will come to a bitter end no matter how many hours of counselling you throw at it. The dynamics of that marriage were such that it was eventually going to fail.

In Malawi, people go to what are known as Ankhoswe (essentially the marriage guardian) to resolve marital conflicts. In traditional Malawian society, there is a special type of principle whereby it is not sufficient for two people to be married without consulting the ankhoswe. For a marriage to be recognsised as valid, ankhoswes from both sides of the union must approve the marriage. Absence of the ankhoswe renders the marriage invalid, and when problems arise in the marriage, the ankhoswe is one of the very first people to be informed. In this case, the ankhoswe takes the role of counsellor or mediator. 

But the whole point of counselling, the whole point of a mediator, is to bring in an element of the outsider’s view. An independent viewpoint from a mature person, an expert at resolving conflicts who can try and bridge the gap; to knock in some sense, ask the awkward questions, to rebuke, and if necessary, challenge any irrational or stupid behaviour. 

There’s a parallel in Politics, in that in most democracies, there are times when the ‘marriage’ between the powers that be (the government), and the people, requires a mediator. There are times when a counsellor is essential. In constitutional democracies, this job is often one for the courts to undertake, but not necessarily its preserve. Because by virtue of courts being manned by judges  – flesh and blood who have career aspirations, political persuasions, favourites and so forth – it is not always the case that courts are independent or impartial.

Religious organisations, civil society organisations, the Media and other commentators form a group that may occasionally take up this mantle, to sing praises where such is due, to advise when necessary, to point out deficiencies in public policy, to ask the difficult questions, to lobby the government towards a particular cause, but also to criticise when wrongdoing has occured. Like the courts, there are limits to the extent to which their intervention is effective, although in some ways it can be a lot more effective in orchestrating change than the courts – since this group tends to be a lot closer to the people, and are thus more influential. Especially when they are united in a single voice. Further, like the courts, they too can be influenced (sometimes negatively) by the government, which can have negative consequences on the people. But unlike courts, the bigger player in a political marriage may not always be willing to listen to Ciivil Society Organisations.

Which presents a problem, because for this marriage to work (at least up to the next election), the bigger party to the marriage must be willing to listen to the grievances of the smaller party. The bigger party must make do on its promises. Otherwise, all hell can break loose and the government can find itself on the defensive, doing irrational and illegal things in an attempt to survive. Essentially forcing itself onto the people. A rape of sorts. Arguably, this is what happened during the last days of Bingu Wa Mutharika’s reign.

In Malawi, we are at a stage in our country’s political development where civil society is beginning to have an increasing influence in politics. This was particularly evident not only during the reign of Bingu Wa Mutharika, but also during Joyce Banda’s tenure. It was the media, the church and civil society who rebuked Bingu over his dictatorial pronouncements – hand in hand with the donor community. They were at Bingu’s throat over Mota Engil. And Mulli. It was this group which held Joyce Banda to task over the asset declaration issue, over Jetgate (and shady deals with defence contractors), Cashgate, the fleet of vehicles, even over the excessive travelling of Joyce Banda. And eventually, when May 2014 came, we all know what happened.

Today, we have a new DPP government, which I’m told is trying to complete the job they began under Bingu Wa Mutharika. In governing, it would be wise for this DPP government not to over-believe its own hype. There is need for mediators, even though there may appear to be no problems at the moment. Still, some people on the ground say that the economy in Malawi is sluggish, and things are slow. So while the environment is that of calm, it’s not exactly hunky dory. Poverty is still widespread in Malawi and money is not yet growing on trees; the land hasn’t yet morphed into a nirvana flowing with milk and honey, the union hasn’t quite reached that coveted state of marital bliss we are all looking forward to.

Which is why I strongly believe that more must be done to strengthen civil society organisations in Malawi, in terms of ensuring they are well resourced and that they can do their job without fear of intimidation. That they can function without political interference. More has to be done in making sure that they are relevant in addressing the issues affecting peoples lives. It’s important, it’s good for our country’s development.

But who’s task is it to strengthen Civil Society Organisations?

How about every Malawian’s task?

The government has an interest for their governance to proceed as smoothly as is possible, so they have to be proactive in helping civil society stand on its own feet – to be not only a check of power, but to communicate to the people the achievements, the process of fulfilling the pre-election promises.

The people have an interest for their government to be accountable, so that the government delivers on what it promised, so they too must be proactive in helping improve Civil society organisations – to ensure that CSO’s monitor the government. This is important so that the government meets the people’s demands. After all, most past government in Malawi have abused the people’s trust and plundered public resources at will. Surely, this impunity has to come to an end at some point.

Donors too have an interest in preserving and growing democracy, and in advancing the aims of the countries from which they come. For this to be possible, the political landscape has to be stable, and for that to happen, the government of the day has to be accountable, and effective (otherwise this happanes). Thus, donors are stakeholders who have an interest in Malawi having a strong and independent CSO sector.

And why should Civil Society Organisations be strong?

Because doing so is a necessary ingredient in creation of a strong democracy. The media can be bought by any fool with deep pockets. Similarly, the courts can be corrupted by power-hungry leaders, religious organisations can be partial (disowning clergy folk who diverge from their stance), the police force can be incapacitated by political implants (the likes of people like Bophani), the public broadcaster can be forced to favouritism, even a general of a country’s army can take sides.

But not all Civil Society Organisations can be compromised (even though some will falter at the sight of a hefty bribe). And that is precisely why they need to be strong.

Why DPP should hire a professional Campaign Manager

So, Dr Lazarus Chakwera is about to announce his running mate (rumour has it that it will be Sidik Mia) for the 2014 Presidential elections in Malawi.

Atupele Muluzi has just selected one Dr Godfrey Chapola to be his running mate. And the troubles have already began. One reader on a news website alleged that Muluzi and Chapola are in fact blood relatives…???

atupeleMeanwhile President Joyce Banda has been linked to a new radio station, Ufulu radio, and yesterday some rumours were circulating that Brown Mpinganjira will be Joyce Banda’s running mate…all of which seem to indicate minimally, if we are to separate speculation from fact, that the campaign trail is bustling with activity.

But what exactly is happening at Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)? Why are they not in the news as much as the other parties? Is DPP really finished as some commentators have said lately? The last I heard was that Peter Mutharika had returned from his trip to the US, and was rubbishing the ignorant comments over his green card.

Before I answer the first question, I must categorically state that I am not a DPP supporter nor member. That while I did support Bingu Wa Mutharika at one point, and liked his independence of mind – to an extent, my interest in talking about the party is merely as a commentator fascinated by the going on’s within the party, which are increasingly appearing bizarre and chaotic.

For one, a little bird tells me that even though they are undertaking all these whistle-stop tours, there is no concise strategy within DPP. Further, when Peter Mutharika returned from the US, it is said that he procured funds to the tune of ~ US$5million for his election campaign, and apparently, a considerable tranche of these monies have been given to one Bright Malopa to use as campaign funds. And it gets worse, the strategy document from which DPP is drawing its campaign strategy was not professionally done by a political strategist, not even by someone with significant knowledge and experience of running political campaigns. Which makes me wonder, how can Henry Mussa their Treasurer-general  say they are confident of winning the election when they don’t even have an organised election campaign?

Now, while $5 million – if you know what to do with it – is probably a decent amount of money to run an election campaign in a small economy such as Malawi, my queries are who exactly is Bright Malopa, and why haven’t DPP employed a professional political strategist?

Most Malawians know that Malopa was Director General of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), and in some respects botched up the institution in his quest to please Mutharika, only to be fired by Joyce Banda, and funny enough, compensated to the tune of K62.5 million for unfair dismissal. But even though his appointment as DG was questionable at the least, with others here claiming that the man has no experience and credentials for such a high-profile job; that he was handpicked to primarily be a political appointee, I’d argue that this election is a totally different challenge.

So, is Malopa a professional campaign strategist then? Has he been trained in managing and planning political campaigns? What qualifies him to be the man running Peter Mutharika’s campaign?

From my brief digging, there is no evidence whatsoever that Malopa is qualified or has experience of running political campaigns. None.

But if you want to stretch it, and ignore these reservations over his qualifications and character, it seems the guy has a media background (CIM) and could at best be described as a lucky (“zogwelamo”) broadcaster with a marketing bias.

From the somewhat incoherent ramblings on his previous blog here (which was abandoned in 2011), he says:

I am a Malawian of youthful years with a postgraduate understanding of Marketing. I’m on the lower-left of the political spectrum, but I’m often tempted by those on the lower-right. They’ve got this beautiful capitalist theory where the people who do work get paid and society automatically adjust things for the greater good, and everyone lives happily ever after. My problem is that it doesn’t work: capitalism gives cash to those who exploit the system, pays people for different tasks than those I consider good, and assumes people are intrinsically bad and need to be corrected. I call that POLITICS OF NKHWENZULE

Er, capitalism gives cash to those who exploit the systempays people for different tasks than those I consider good, and assumes people are intrinsically bad and need to be corrected.?? Is he an anti-capitalist? Or a communist??

A look at the information on his newest venture,here, is also not too helpful in ascertaining whether he can hack an election campaign:

Is the former Director General of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. He has numerous years of experience in TV production, rebranding and repositioning. Whilst working for MBC, he was responsible for a creative turn around strategy, which saw MBC increasing its market share from 43% to 72%. MBC also increased local content by 78%, business growth by 17%, and income by 46% under his leadership. He was behind the programme, OUR PEOPLE OUR PRIDE, which was featured on other broadcasters and received a bronze award for creative management from Association of African Public Administrators. He is also the former trustee of the Southern African Broadcasting Association, Coordinator of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, and former Vice-President of the African Broadcasting Media Partnership against HIV/AIDS (ABMP), a body of 38 broadcasters.

Whatever you make of the accolades, this is hardly anywhere near political strategist wizardly… Or is it?

Unfortunately, this is the kind of leadership Malawians find themselves at the mercy of…Forget the scandals Joyce Banda has been accused of, forget the problems in UDF, if Malawians do not begin to do things properly, how can the country ever improve?

If one is ill and in need of a doctor, they don’t go to visit a Vet?? No matter how knowledgeable the Vet is, you go to a hospital or clinic and request to meet a Doctor, who is the appropriate person to attend to you. But had the situation been different such that you had a dog that was ill, then the Vet’s door would be the appropriate door to knock on…

DPP for their own sake need to hire a professional strategist to run their elections campaign professionally, and there are many companies out there that offer this service, and whose employees are professionals schooled in the craft of political strategy. If Peter Mutharika can raise $5 million for a presidential campaign, then surely his camp can find a decent political strategist to do the job well. Why leave a serious election campaign which he may never run again to amateurs who have no idea what they are doing?

As for the lessons, they are many, including Obama’s own election campaigns, which are littered with best practices: what to do and what not to do, so much so that even the Conservative party in the UK, as unsightly their reputation may be in certain quarters, have hired a political strategist who previously run Obama’s campaign.

Yes, Malawi is a whole different ball game, totally different atmosphere, and cannot be compared with the US, or Britain, for all sorts of reasons. But don’t you think using a professional improves your chances significantly as a candidate and can minimise mistakes? Don’t you think that a trained or qualified strategist would have a better chance at adapting their craft to a new environment, than untrained handpicked individuals who are expected to figure it out as they go along?

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Same **** different players

So the cowboys have finally taken to the dock. After that fateful night in April plotting to effectively hijack the presidency, an unconstitutional coup that was only prevented by the combination of the fury of discerning Malawians, and the true patriotic knight that is General Odillo – a man every Malawian should be thankful to – the midnight six are now facing charges of treason.

But putting aside the case itself, what I’ve never been able to comprehend is this: While this case is ongoing, why are DPP supporters still betting on Peter Mutharika for leadership? Is DPP’s part of Malawi really that short of people, and leadership, such that they continue to fawn at a man who flew the dead and rotting body of his brother to South Africa, and count on him as a presidential candidate?

NewsTo be frank, as a Malawian, I really wouldn’t want to be associated with a country whose president has such a dodgy and inhumane history. Not in a 21st century post dictatorship democracy.

When Bingu was a president, I supported him. I’ve never believed in the backward, cheap and regionalistic politics of only supporting people from your village or region because such is what causes underdevelopment in Malawi, since people vote for incapable candidates because they are ‘Mwana wakwithu’. Mwana wa Mayi…its absurd, and Malawians must move away from this type of thinking to a logical position where they vote for competency, not along tribal or regional lines.

Anyway, despite being a northerner, I supported Bingu, after he began DPP, because he represented a fundamental shift from the cheap, corrupt and brutish voter-rigging, empty rampaging charade of acheya’s UDF. Having said that , my family didn’t like Bingu  because they didn’t know him and thought he would turn out to be just like the others before him, making promises he wouldn’t be able to fulfill. They had their reasons.

But Bingu did well in his first term of office. He began to actively target corruption (see this brilliant tribute by Yves Kalala), and indicated an interest to spark economic development and improve education and research. Despite the high expense, the FISP programme proved a success, and from around 2006 created a huge surplus (1.3 million Metric tonnes) for Malawi, increasing food availability and transforming Malawi into a grain exporter. Malawian harvests became a global model. Bingu began promoting gender equality and had several female politicians hold high political office – including Joyce Banda. Bingu made a stand against some western policies, which at times have been selfish and not exactly in the best interest of poor Malawians.

But when his second term came, after a 66% majority, and the whole Mulhako Wa ALhomwe thing (which to me is a divisive initiative a sitting president shouldnt involve himself too much in); add  Mulli and Mota Engil to that and I found myself doubting where the man was going.  I couldn’t support a figure who was increasingly becoming divisive.

There were some things I still believe Bingu was right about, even towards the very end. The issue about currency devaluation was a hotly debated topic, and even experts disagreed on whether devaluation was the best course for Malawi to take, considering its circumstances. Then there was the story about energy generation – to buy from Mozambique (and be  a recipient of electricity which you didn’t control, while the Mozambicans made money off your head – kutidyela masuku pamutu) or for Malawi to generate its own energy(he chose the latter – and he was absolutely right)

What he was wrong about was becoming a divisive figure, the attacks on civil liberties and CSO’s, including the question marks over the death of Robert Chasowa. The intolerance  and heavy-handedness that led on July 20, 2011, to the death of 19 demonstrators. The blind eye paid to corruption that saw millions of dollars looted. The close links with Mota-Engil and Mulli – companies which under Mutharika’s leadership won many substantial contracts. All this isolated many well-meaning Malawians who had initially supported Mutharika, when he fell out with UDF. Bingu’s own indiscretion blurred his reputation even more.

Today, we have a different problem in Malawi that is somewhat linked to the problems of those days. When Bingu ignored the advice he received regarding the IFMIS, he either did so knowingly, or he did so because he was trying to appease some people within his circles. Whatever his intention, he was wrong not to address the issue, which today we are told is in fact responsible for the looting of millions of dollars, this time under Joyce Banda’s government.

The plot is intoxicating and the revelations keep pouring in. Yesterday another version or appendage to the story sprang up. Here, I would call upon the auditors looking into the cashgate scandal to take note of what Mphwiyo’s wife is alleged to have said. After all, wives generally do get to know a lot of their husbands’ dealings:

What Ralph Kasambara knows and the reason he wants JB [Joyce Banda]. Mpinganjira,Cecilia Kumpukwe to be his witnesses [ in his court case] is that Lutepo withdrew K4 billion with the help of Chuka and together with Cecilia deposited the money into the Joyce Banda foundation accounts.

Ralph’s role was to explain to Chuka the legal implications of disobeying the president if he was going to say no and consult regulatory bodies. Zonsezi zimachitika [All this was happening] the same week Mphwiyo was shot.

Nde Now aMphwiyo asked Ralph for his cut since he had to be made aware of the transaction and Ralph refused to comment citing presidential confidentiality agreement.

Mukumva? [Are you listening]

thats when they labeled him a liability and had to be eliminated.This is according to Mphwiyos wife… Who also mentioned Manganaue Mphande to be one of many people who visited him in an SA hospital…nkhaniyi ndiyayitali [this story is long]….

a few days ago, someone else said:

Mr. Lutepo had a joint contract with Roy Kachale, to supply transformers to ESCOM. They were supposed to be paid K1,356,000,000.00 (K1.3Billion). Transformers were delivered on 13th September, 2013. Allegedly, award of this contract flouted some procedures and ACB was supposed to interrogate officers at ESCOM headquarters on Monday, 21st October, 2013 after a tip-off from ESCOM employees. Those doubting this information can cross check with MRA, where Mr. Lutepo cleared four 40 feet containers of ESCOM Transformers. AMALAWI TSEGULANI MASO! (Malawians open your eyes!)

And it gets worse, with another group here speculating that they may have been responsible for burning down Escom house???

Who do you believe in a country where some opposition journalists live in fear, or are under intimidation, so cannot do their job properly!

Hopefully, time will tell what is true or what of everything I’ve written regarding this scandal is infact mere speculation. At that point count me in as one deceived by liars!

Time will tell where Malawian politics goes from here, however, knowing how  things have worked in the past, we may never know the full story…we may never know the whole truth. Especially with shady PR organisations being hired (see here) at a cost of millions of tax payers kwachas (at a time when there are no medicines in hospitals, and thousands of teachers have not been paid) to paint false reputations, how should anyone be able to distinguish fact from fiction, or indeed put their leaders to task?

teachers

My message to anyone outside Malawi who truly wants to  know what is going on in Malawi is this: –

IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT, PLEASE GO THERE, AND SEE FOR YOURSELF!

DON’T TRUST ANYONE, CERTAINLY NOT THE MEDIA AGENCIES ACROSS THE WORLD OR IN MALAWI – there are strong indications of a conspiracy going on. Mercenaries with devious intentions are about, pulling strings.

DON’T TRUST ANY NEWS AGENCY-SOME OF THE VOCAL ONES (INCLUDING ONLINE PORTALS) HAVE ‘SOLD OUT’ AND ARE ON THE PAYROLL OF POLITICIANS, OR HAVE AGENDAS.

DON’T EVEN TRUST THIS BLOG! PLEASE DON’T.

GO INTO THE HOSPITALS, THE VILLAGES AND THE SCHOOLS, GO AND SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT IS HAPPENING IN MALAWI TO KNOW THE TRUTH

HEAR IT FROM THE PEOPLE, AWAY FROM PR GURUS ON POLITICIANS’ / GOVERNMENT PAYROLL, AWAY FROM COMMENTATORS,  PARTY SUPPORTERS OR SPIN DOCTORS WITH QUESTIONABLE AGENDAS

IFMIS : What did UDF, DPP and PP know?

IFMIS

Reports can be fantastic pieces of literature. Absolutely wonderful things…informative, revealing, ridiculing, attesting – marvelous!  More so if they happen to be government-funded.

Whenever political leaders are busy paying lip service, telling lies, denying allegations and generally being unpleasant to their electors (and those who didn’t elect them), a little bit of research can quickly reveal who amongst the herd is Pinocchio.

The report above which is a summary can be downloaded here: Summary of key findings and recommendations of GOM IFMIS Review-2. It is dated 18th November 2009, and is a summary of a Report commissioned to asses how the IFMIS was functioning. It is titled QUICK ASSESSMENT OF THE INTEGRATED FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM.

The original report (which I imagine can be obtained from the Public Financial and Economic Management section of the Ministry of Finance) is over 200 pages long (and don’t ask how I got my hands on it), but this summary is only 34 pages long. According to this summary:

As part of the continuous PFM reform processes in a bid to further enhance public expenditure management, the Malawi Government through the PSRMU of the OPC engaged the author through UltiNetS2 to undertake a quick impact assessment of the EPICOR* based IFMIS implementation with a core objective to identify any system operational or functionality challenges and make appropriate recommendations for improvements.

*EPICOR is the company that makes such software

In other words the report was commissioned to highlight the benefits and challenges of the IFMIS and ask questions such as:

(1) What is the IFMIS?

(2) Why was it chosen by the Ministry of Finance (MOF)?

(3) Is it working as intended / achieving its purpose?

(4) How well is it performing ?

(5) What are the problems / operational issues ?

(6) Where are these problems / operational challenges?

(7) What can be done to improve its performance/ resolve these problems?

… and so on.

At the time of commissioning, Bingu Wa Mutharika had been in power for some 5 years and 6 months.

Before we look closely at this summary, a notable point is somewhat appropriate: the version of IFMIS Malawi installed on its systems / computers is based on a version Tanzania installed. We all know that not too long ago, Tanzania’s president sacked his cabinet ministers due to corruption. Was this related to IFMIS?? I think someone needs to find out?

Earlier in 2006, the OECD Journal on Budgeting carried an article by Jack Diamond and Pokar Khemani titled Introducing Financial Management Information Systems in Developing Countries that explored the merits of the IFMIS system and looked at case studies in developing countries including those across Africa.

According to the OECD article, attributes of a well-designed FMIS include:

attributes-ifmis

Yet if you take a look at the summary of the IFMIS in Malawi, it’s indisputable how hollow and a shambles the whole rollout was. Everything was dysfunctional, from the contracting phase to the implementation phase and support, everything was a disaster!

According to the UltiNetS Summary, the positives include:

– The successful implementation of the EPICOR based IFMIS significantly contributed to the debt cancellation for Malawi as a country under the HIPC initiative

The implementation of EPICOR based IFMIS has to some extent assisted the Government in restoring some fiscal discipline through public expenditure management particularly on transactions that are primarily processed through the system.

The introduction of EPICOR based IFMIS has significantly checked the proliferation of Government bank accounts by the MDAs* thereby giving the AGD* a better control.

The introduction of the EPICOR based CPS* has significantly restored the credibility of Government cheque payments to its creditors.

*[AGD: Accounts General Department; CPS: Central Payment System; MDA’s: Ministerial Departments and Agencies]

Yet in spite of all this, we are then informed that:

– The conditions of contract were more in favour of the contractor (Soft-Tech Consultants) than the client (Malawi Government) which clearly shows that the client did not have much input into the document before engagement.

There was no valid justification for the training to be conducted for almost the whole year and at every site of implementation, hence proved too expensive for the Government considering similar implementations.

– The IFMIS contractual costs are too high than anticipated (almost USD $1.7million) more particularly on the user licences, consultancy, training services and travel which account for almost 91% of the total cost.

– There was non strategic procurement of bout 240 system concurrent user licences for all 32 sites for all the modules when only a few of these licences are currently used.

–  The EPICOR based IFMIS architecture, design and operational framework is incomplete to constitute an ideal Government IFMIS system design and operational architecture as it still falls short of
other key elements and full functionality of the sy stem.

In other words, the Malawian government has been using an incomplete and system that is not fit for purpose. The observations continue:

There is a great deal of system underutilization considering the number of procured modules and other key features within the existing functional modules that are currently not functional.

The system does not have any alert system to detect any fraudulent activities or any deviations to normal operations within the system such as overriding system controls without appropriate approval
process and any system performance issues let alone a functional audit trail to track system usage

If post-Cashgate you wanted to know why junior accounts assistants (see most recent revelations here) were found with millions of dollars, this is precisely why.

The current Chart of Accounts is not yet fully GFS compliant as per the IMF requirement and does not fully respond to the performance measurement indicators of the current MGDS.

From a budget execution perspective, the EPICOR based IFMIS system is working perfectly as a budget expenditure control system since no funding or expenditure can take place where there is no budget unless overridden, however the system does not block budgets that have already been expended to the equivalent of expenditures 

In other words, a user can Overspend. In principle, this means that a user can generate a cheque and get the Reserve Bank of Malawi to honour it, even when on his budget, that money doesn’t actually exist.

The IFMIS infrastructure does not have any intrusion prevention and detective system or mechanism to easily gain visibility and monitor any potential security threats considering that the access in mainly by user ID and password which can easily be accessed

So who can say whether foreign criminals haven’t laid their hands on some of this money??

Some of key control features particularly in the payment management approval process within the IFMIS are not yet activated and functional to improve the entire system internal control framework.

The current payments management system is weak and prone to exploitation or abuse by colluders as access into the system and Accounts Payable module in particular is not physically authenticated beyond normal user ID and passwords due to lack of appropriate tools.

Again, like above, misappropriation withing IFMIS is easy, so long as you have a username and password. And people could collude to steal money, so the Cashgate scandal should not be a surprise at all.

The current core accounting system and financials suite of the EPICOR based IFMIS has an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) module which is more secure mode of payments which if implemented could help reduce some instances of cheque frauds and frequent delays in processing and dispatching cheques. In addition, it could eliminate risks associated with the MALSWITCH link used for cheque list transmission.

So they knew that there was cheque fraud happening? Or is this just a hypothetical situation?

The current structure of the CPS within the EPICOR based IFMIS lack appropriate tools and effective controls for checking, verifying and authenticating or validating payment transactions within key units before issuing cheques or effecting transfers to third parties, hence difficult to detect any fraudulent payments from within the financial system. For instance the Receiving unit of the AGD’s CPO does not have any means for verifying the authenticity of signatures on the payment vouchers and electronic voucher list from the MDAs, hence difficult to establish any instances of forgery.

There was no capacity to check if signatures are fake, meaning forgeries could have occurred, or did occur?

– The NAO [National Audit Office] does not have adequate capacity to audit the EPICOR based IFMIS functionality apart from auditing the financial statements (‘ Appropriation accounts’) as it does not have automated audit management tools to enable carry out that function

The NAO does not have adequate capacity in terms of man power and funding to effectively carry various types of audits covering automated systems.

All this advice was given to the Office of the President under DPP’s watch, when Mutharika was at the helm. Further the 2006 OECD report at page 19 / 115(last paragraph), states that:

In general, the implementation phase has not progressed well, primarily because of clearly limited involvement and some neglect of the system by the main players, including the Ministry of Finance, the Accountant General and pilot ministries. There are several significant issues to be addressed before the system can be made fully functional and rolled out.

Neglect?? That’s a strong word. When they received this advice, why didn’t DPP act?  And if they claim to have acted, what did they do to solve the above problems? More importantly, when PP came into power, did they know of this report and its findings, given the fact that the Ministry of Finance is a crucial ministry in any country?

I think the Malawian people deserve some answers. Malawians need responsible leaders who will help develop the country, not a hopeless and clueless bunch who are only interested in self-enrichment…

Reviewing this summary, it is absolutely clear that the Ministry of Finance knew the dangers of the IFMIS and the fraud that was happening ? They must have known. There are no two ways about this. But they ignored the problems/ fraud, or took advantage of them. In my view, the silence / inaction suggests some people was benefitting from the mess. Clearly, Lipenga and his juniors were hopelessly incompetent, and Joyce Banda must take responsibility for bringing in such a useless man into such a respectable office.

It all simply begs the question, how can such massive amounts of money be embezzled when the inherent problems were known? Those responsible for the plunder must pay back what they stole…Every single penny! And face the arm of the law.

The fact that successive governments knew there was a problem, but didn’t act strongly suggest there was a conspiracy to defraud the Malawian people, such that our syndicate theory may in fact be broader and far-reaching than us ordinary folk think?

Why do Malawians elect incompetent officials who can’t even do the basics?

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