One killed and many injured in land resettlement fracas involving Mota Engil

Barely a week after the Times run a story about Mota Engil’s proposed 5-star hotel in Monkey Bay in Mangochi, the newspaper has reported that a man has died and several others were injured on Tuesday in a fracas over the issue:

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Nyasa Times put the dead toll at two people. Malawi News 24 reported that nine people had been injured.

The dispute (also mentioned on the Times Facebook page here) concerns the resettlement of villagers from land (said to be in the region of 100 hectares) to make way for a the construction of the hotel and golf course. The villagers claim the government didn’t consult them when selling the land to Mota Engil, and that their rights have been breached. Further they claim that the chief, Nankumba, is corruptly implicated in the scheme.

Land grabbing and forced eviction disputes are common across Africa (see the following links: Brazil’s big landowners have far too much power | Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs | Tanzania evicting 40,000 people from homeland to make room for Dubai royal family – Salon.com | Villagers, the big losers as land is ‘grabbed’ for development | Ethiopia’s land grab nightmare of the Suri People ~ Horn Affairs), and usually they follow a similar pattern that pits the power of the government in concert with rich corporations against defenceless and voiceless communities.

A government will decide to commercialize a large chunk of land for a project, be it agricultural (e.g. a sugarcane plantation) or industrial in nature. They approach the villagers, but because there is very little incentive to adequately compensate them, or not enough effort to explain how the sale of the land will benefit the villagers, and because of the corruption involved, the villagers will refuse to be resettled. Thus after varying degrees of negotiations or coercion, the military, police and sometimes armed militia are recruited to forcibly remove the people. Bulldozers move in, buildings are demolished, sometimes burnt, those who resist are arrested and sometimes imprisoned, and very little is done to help the people whose land has been forcibly taken. Often the communities never get to receive any material benefit from the sale of their land. Talk of taking advantage of defenceless people.

But there are ways of doing things constructively. For example, looking at the floods that have recently devastated the southern part of Malawi, it makes sense to resettle most of the people from the areas that are most at risk of flooding; indefinitely, or until effective permanent solutions are found to the flooding problem in these areas. It’s in their best interest.

If I were in charge of a project of resettlement, the following is a rough outline of what I would insist to be done. To me it’s common sense, at least if the dignity of the people affected is to be preserved:-

(1) The government and land developer involved would need to identify suitable land for the villagers to be resettled to, and begin building decent accommodation (homes and flats) for them to live in. In order to utilise space efficiently, they would need to consider energy-efficient flats or even communal living spaces for those who opt for it. Although it would entail some cost, if you are taking land away from people, they need to be remunerated properly. And just because they are poor doesn’t mean that they must be ill-treated or taken advantage of.

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And it doesn’t have to be overly expensive. Bamboo roofed houses like the one below, made of treated bamboo, with solar water heaters, solar lamps could go some way in providing accommodation for a few years, before something permanent is built :-

bamboo-house(2) The government would need to develop employment options for the community, by bringing in some kind of work. A factory to make soap, to assemble bicycles, to produce eco-friendly building materials, or an integrated commercial agricultural interest would do. This is important to provide the working population amongst the villagers with jobs, and a means to earn a living, so as to reduce poverty and desperation.

employment(3) Similarly, an administration office, a police depot, some schools, a technical college to provide skills training would need to be built. A library, a market, a hospital, some shops, possibly even a small shopping mall with a Cinema, and other important infrastructure would also be necessary, to provide amusement and entertainment, and to cater to the new settlement.

Students-Africa(4) The roads and transport links from the new settlement to the nearest city would need to be updated, to enable seamless travel, and encourage transfer of skills to the area.

road(5) Communication:- The government would need to be transparent and invite the villagers to relocate to the new town. Each family would be provided with a home depending on the size of the family and its earning potential. The ownership of the house would be 50% owned by the government and the other 50% by each household. Further, depending on their earnings, they would be asked to contribute a small amount each month towards buying the house, although alternative arrangements would be found for those who are old and can’t work, and those who are poor and have no income source. A relocation stipend to each household would also be provided to help them start their new life.

(6) A promise to preserve grave sites and religious or sacred sites at their old settlements would be necessary. Further, within reason, the villagers would need to be allowed access to the religious and sacred areas.

(7) Finally, Ownership. A trust fund would be created to be administered by representatives of the villagers ( and not the chiefs) whereby at least 20% of the hotel and golf-course’s pre-tax profits would be invested in to help developing the community, including creatint employment, to be invested in education and healthcare, and to maintain the housing estates or build additional settlements. This must be fixed contractually for the present hotel operator, and any future operators. Why? Because that’s the true meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Only then would it be equitable and right to hand over the vacated land to the hotel developer. These people have to ask the question, how they would want the government to handle the matter had it been them who were being asked to move, and leave their land behind? Any developer who doesn’t agree to a deal that includes such considerations definitely does not have the people’s interests to heart.

Flipping the Corruption Myth

Flipping the Corruption Myth by Dr Jason Hickel, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and an adviser to /The Rules
– Corruption is by far not the main factor behind persisting poverty in the Global South.  Original article via Al Jazeera here

* * * * * *  * * = * * * * * * * = * * * * * * *

Transparency International recently published their latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), laid out in an eye-catching map of the world with the least corrupt nations coded in happy yellow and the most corrupt nations smeared in stigmatising red. The CPI defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”, and draws its data from 12 different institutions including the World Bank, Freedom House, and the World Economic Forum.

When I first saw this map I was struck by the fact that most of the yellow areas happen to be rich Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, whereas red covers almost the entirety of the global South, with countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia daubed especially dark.

This geographical division fits squarely with mainstream views, which see corruption as the scourge of the developing world (cue cliche images of dictators in Africa and bribery in India). But is this storyline accurate?

Many international development organisations hold that persistent poverty in the Global South is caused largely by corruption among local public officials. In 2003 these concerns led to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which asserts that, while corruption exists in all countries, this “evil phenomenon” is “most destructive” in the global South, where it is a “key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development”.

There’s only one problem with this theory: It’s just not true.

Corruption, superpower style

According to the World Bank, corruption in the form of bribery and theft by government officials, the main target of the UN Convention, costs developing countries between $20bn and $40bn each year. That’s a lot of money. But it’s an extremely small proportion – only about 3 percent – of the total illicit flows that leak out of public coffers. Tax avoidance, on the other hand, accounts for more than $900bn each year, money that multinational corporations steal from developing countries through practices such as trade mispricing.

This enormous outflow of wealth is facilitated by a shadowy financial system that includes tax havens, paper companies, anonymous accounts, and fake foundations, with the City of London at the very heart of it. Over 30 percent of global foreign direct investment is booked through tax havens, which now collectively hide one-sixth of the world’s total private wealth.

This is a massive – indeed, fundamental – cause of poverty in the developing world, yet it does not register in the mainstream definition of corruption, absent from the UN Convention, and rarely, if ever, appears on the agenda of international development organisations.

With the City of London at the centre of the global tax haven web, how does the UK end up with a clean CPI?

The question is all the more baffling given that the city is immune from many of the nation’s democratic laws and free of all parliamentary oversight. As a result of this special status, London has maintained a number of quaint plutocratic traditions. Take its electoral process, for instance: More than 70 percent of the votes cast during council elections are cast not by residents, but by corporations – mostly banks and financial firms. And the bigger the corporation, the more votes they get, with the largest firms getting 79 votes each. This takes US-style corporate personhood to another level.

To be fair, this kind of corruption is not entirely out-of-place in a country where a feudalistic royal family owns 120,000 hectares of the nation’s land and sucks up around £40m ($65.7m) of public funds each year. Then there’s the parliament, where the House of Lords is filled not by-election but by appointment, with 92 seats inherited by aristocratic families, 26 set aside for the leaders of the country’s largest religious sect, and dozens of others divvied up for sale to multi-millionaires.

Corruption in US is only slightly less blatant. Whereas congressional seats are not yet available for outright purchase, the Citizens United vs FEC ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns to ensure that their preferred candidates get elected, a practice justified under the Orwellian banner of “free speech”.

The poverty factor

The UN Convention is correct to say that poverty in developing countries is caused by corruption. But the corruption we ought to be most concerned about has its root in the countries that are coloured yellow on the CPI map, not red.

The tax haven system is not the only culprit. We know that the global financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by systemic corruption among public officials in the US who were intimately tied to the interests of Wall Street firms. In addition to shifting trillions of dollars from public coffers into private pockets through bailouts, the crisis wiped out a huge chunk of the global economy and had a devastating effect on developing countries when demand for exports dried up, causing massive waves of unemployment.

A similar story can be told about the Libor scandal in the UK, when major London banks colluded to rig interest rates so as to suck around $100bn of free money from people even well beyond Britain’s shores. How could either of these scandals be defined as anything but the misuse of public power for private benefit? The global reach of this kind of corruption makes petty bribery and theft in the developing world seem parochial by comparison.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we really want to understand how corruption drives poverty in developing countries, we need to start by looking at the institutions that control the global economy, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the policies that these institutions foisted on the Global South, following the Washington Consensus, caused per capita income growth rates to collapse by almost 50 percent. Economist Robert Pollin has estimated that during this period developing countries lost around $480bn per year in potential GDP. It would be difficult to overstate the human devastation that these numbers represent. Yet Western corporations have benefitted tremendously from this process, gaining access to new markets, cheaper labour and raw materials, and fresh avenues for capital flight.

These international institutions masquerade as mechanisms for public governance, but they are deeply anti-democratic; this is why they can get away with imposing policies that so directly violate public interest. Voting power in the IMF and World Bank is apportioned so that developing countries – the vast majority of the world’s population – together hold less than 50 percent of the vote, while the US Treasury wields de facto veto power. The leaders of these institutions are not elected, but appointed by the US and Europe, with not a few military bosses and Wall Street executives among them.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, has publicly denounced these institutions as among the least transparent he has ever encountered. They also suffer from a shocking lack of accountability, as they enjoy special “sovereign immunity” status that protects them against public lawsuit when their policies fail, regardless of how much harm they cause.

Shifting the blame

If these patterns of governance were true of any given nation in the global South, the West would cry corruption. Yet such corruption is normalised in the command centres of the global economy, perpetuating poverty in the developing world while Transparency International directs our attention elsewhere.

Even if we do decide to focus on localised corruption in developing countries, we have to accept that it does not exist in a geopolitical vacuum. Many of history’s most famous dictators – like Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Hosni Mubarak – were supported by a steady flow of Western aid. Today, not a few of the world’s most corrupt regimes have been installed or bolstered by the US, among them Afghanistan, South Sudan, and the warlords of Somalia – three of the darkest states on the CPI map.

This raises an interesting question: Which is more corrupt, the petty dictatorship or the superpower that installs it? Unfortunately, the UN Convention conveniently ignores these dynamics, and the CPI map leads us to believe, incorrectly, that each country’s corruption is neatly bounded by national borders.

Corruption is a major driver of poverty, to be sure. But if we are to be serious about tackling this problem, the CPI map will not be much help. The biggest cause of poverty in developing countries is not localised bribery and theft, but the corruption that is endemic to the global governance system, the tax haven network, and the banking sectors of New York and London. It’s time to flip the corruption myth on its head and start demanding transparency where it counts.

Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jasonhickel

Whodunnit : Kalambula bwalo

money-case-163495_640

“By making the government a combination of elected officials and citizen-backed initiatives and referenda, there can truly be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Victoria Stoklasa, Sign It Into Law: How to Put Your Petition on the Ballot

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so the saying goes. Also, it takes a thief to catch a thief, so the idiom goes.

A scandal of rampant corruption on a colossal scale, dodgy deals that swindled millions of dollars from Malawi government state coffers, a mush of top-level fraud, pseudo-mafia syndicates, cover-ups, propaganda, damage limitation and possibly character assassination has been running amok on social media circles lately. The plot, which includes illegal cashing of cheques using ghost companies or companies that did not supply any goods or services to  the government, makes some astounding (but not entirely surprising) allegations and sounds like something out of a Nollywood movie. Or from a wild wild west film. You don’t believe me? Well, for a start take a look at these titles:

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And that’s before we even get to the issue of inflated invoices most recently decried here.

But, but before I continue (and before somebody erroneously labels me a cantankerous and belligerent git beguiled by rumour, speculation or social media chit-chat), I must categorically state that my interest in the story you are about to read is either as a messenger-cum-advocate (writing to advance and improve Malawi’s economic situation by dissemination of progressive ideas, views and inspiration – which probably includes exposing corruption that stands in the way of progress), or as a shocked Malawian national horrified by the scale and proliferation of impunity in government. At least that’s what I think.

I have absolutely no interest in petty fights or trifles, no interest in causing problems for anybody, neither interest nor intention in tarnishing individual reputations, I take absolutely no pleasure in defaming upright politicians or honest members of the public, and will take no responsibility whatsoever over the accuracy of what is handed over to me. I’m only reflecting what I’ve received and have been asked to publish, and should it be false, or not entirely true, I will do nothing other than publish one apology to those aggrieved by the allegations – here, on the same page as the allegation and, if they like, in BIG LETTERS and on a massive RED background, in a number of languages, for full effect:-

sorry

Obviously, anyone sensible never publishes serious allegations without doing some serious research and taking reasonable steps to invite comment or alternative storylines from those that stand accused of the allegations (as far as one is able to). And this I have done, although I must say after waiting for at least 9 days (during which I received no response or even acknowledgement) for the accused to comment, with what others term ‘righteous anger’ building in my loins, I had little choice but to proceed and publish this material.

Also, there is the element of common sense: which thief / conman who hasn’t yet been apprehended by the authorities or the law, and who has their liberty, will voluntarily confess of their thieving in public? That is why in legal circles evidence comes into play, because even if you deny doing it, if there is compelling evidence against you, beyond reasonable doubt, then you my friend are the one whodunnit.

But what if the evidence is fuzzy, or virtually non-existent (except for secret murmurs from fear-struck individuals who want to do what is right, but are afraid of the consequences)? And what if the conman happens to be cunning enough to cover up most (thankfully not all) of their tracks? Further, what if some of those accused are cagey about what happened (akin in opacity perhaps to the responses of US bank chiefs, when asked what they did with the bailout billions in re Troubled Assets Relief Program)? Also, consider the scenario whereby the ‘conmen’ are infact a sophisticated syndicate that includes powerful individuals within the Malawian government? Does the Malawian public still deserve to know of the allegations made against the public officials? I’ll let you think about that for a moment…

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So, after much soul-searching and indeterminate hours of painful research, telephone calls and discussions with legal types, hitting several dead ends and encountering various versions of the same story (an exercise that brought to mind the irreconcilable contradictions within the Biblical gospels), I have decided that the material I hold on the Mphwiyo shooting is plausible, of journalistic significance and squarely within the public right to know. After all, much of it is already on Facebook, and this will give those without a Facebook account a piece of the action.

Further (and please feel free to excuse any appearance of narcissism here), because well-known portals for aggrieved citizens to report the wrongdoings of their governments – such as Wikileaks – are often under siege/ attack (by, surprise surprise, government agencies) and burdened by other more spurious global matters (Edward Snowden affair, Julian Assange embassy hideout et al), it may not be too bad an idea to carry their mantle (in this regard that mantle is probably only a small scarf/handkerchief) a short distance, shedding light onto corruption that has been happening in recent months in more lowly places such as in the country of Malawi.

Thankfully, there are other warriors in this battle: The Chief Mourner is one, so is Billy Mayaya, Henry Kachaje and many other honourable and brave souls. I say Kudos to them all, no doubt, they have their own reasons and motivations, possibly agendas, definitely intentions for doing what they do, and you can ask them this, but I will not pretend that I know for sure what those intentions are, except to say that they wish the best for Malawi.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The Background  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

While there has been both a positive (http://world.time.com/2013/09/15/malawi-official-who-fought-graft-shot-wounded/ ) and negative (http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/09/18/smokes-and-mirrors-unpacking-the-paul-mphwiyo-saga/  ) picture painted of the budget director Paul Mphwiyo, who was recently shot outside his home, and according to news reports because he was close to exposing corruption in top government circles, a credible source reveals there is more meat to the story.

* * * * * * * * The Story – the allegations  – translated into English and with minor edits-  reference date: 17th of September 2013 * * * * * * * * *

Recently Paul Mphwiyo instructed his Budget Section to fund the Pensions Section with K450million (£ 842,239.46). Because Pensions is called Below-the-line account or in other words a Statutory Account (like miscellaneous deposit or the Presidency account) which means Auditors cannot question the Funds flow in these accounts since they are statutory, Mphwiyo took advantage of this loophole.

In a bid to either please or deceive the presidency, he was informing the Secretary to the Treasury that somehow the money will find itself in the hands of Peoples Party (PP) for their election Campaign. Mphwiyo shared the money with another gentleman; one Mr. Madzi (who apparently is the Chief Accountant in Accountant General’s office). This man was given K200million (£374,164.30) and he is the one who is keeping the ‘fund’ and distributing it amongst accomplice officers at the Accountant General’s office, while Paul Mphwiyo is keeping K250million (£ 467,688.20) to distribute with accomplices including officers at the Treasury. So this idea that Mphwiyo was fighting corruption is entirely false. It appears to be a carefully crafted lie designed to either cover up or distort the real truth.

Actually, for this issue to be uncovered there was a spat within the ‘corruption syndicate’ at the Accountant General’s office, as those involved began arguing as to how the funds will be divided amongst them, until Mr. Madzi suddenly took a holiday (‘bed leave’) the whole of last week. Predictably, some of the disgruntled officers began ‘talking’ threatening that they will out the accountant, including names of ghost pensioners they collectively used to make payments to, to embezzle the money out of government coffers.

My source tells me this is the third time that K450 million has been transferred from government accounts.  And interesting this is the third month that Government Ministries and Departments in Malawi have had only half of their budget funded. The excuse that was provided for the August transfer of K450 million was that there was the SADC Conference that needed to be funded.

And remember the K120 million which Patrick Sithole was arrested for several days ago? (http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/09/11/malawi-public-servant-arrested-over-k120-million-cash/ ) Well, that’s related to this scandal because Patrick Sithole worked at Accountant General’s office in the reconciliation section. Here, he was responsible for accounting reconciliation on the books from all the government Ministries. He had access rights within the government accounting system known as IFMIS, which is used in all the Ministries. Because of having such access, temptation and excitement got the better of him and he began doing unauthorised deals and transactions. In order to get money out, he needed to find companies that were willing to receive money in seemingly ‘normal looking’ transactions, but from which he would be paid a cut, dividing the funds with the owner of the company. Unfortunately, he began to ask too many people to be accomplices in his fraudulent activities, and this exposed him as word travelled around as to what he was actually doing. With such rumours circulating, a man by the name of Pika Manondo (a man with connections to Ralph Kasambara – which Kasambara denies) approached Sithole, and gave him company names, so that they could be doing the fraudulent deals together. My source informs me that they have been embezzling governments funds for quite a while now and Pika Manondo (who was in fact fired from his role at Parliament because of fraud) has become incredibly wealthy such that he has K350million   (£ 654,982.14) in his bank account and owns a 15 vehicle car hire company. This wealth appears to have been accumulated from since the time Ralph Kasambara was appointed into government. So these deals extended to Ralph Kasambara and Wapona Kita (not least because some people knew that one day they will need legal protection).

These deals also involve companies belonging to Maxwell Namata (who was fired from Ministry of Housing due to fraud) [see different story implicating Namata’s company here: http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/09/19/acb-arrests-2-public-servants-on-fraud-over-k70m/ ] and Mr Hophmally Makande’s protégés??

The Problem then arose about how they will be getting funds to fund Government Ministries which then can be used to process cheques to the Companies. That’s when Ralph Kasambara approached Paul Mphwiyo as Budget Director (because it is the budget section in the Ministry of Finance that does the funding in the IFMIS system) to help with the deals. Paul Mphwiyo is not at all a clean man, and it’s only a matter of time that these investigations reveal this very fact.

In actual fact, the Toyota Fortuner which was found at Patrick Sithole area 47 residence when he got arrested, and in which they found K80 million (£149,692.71), belongs to Paul Mphwiyo.

So, for a while these deals have been going on ‘smoothly’ but of recent, Pika Manondo, Ralph Kasambara, Hophmally Makande and Maxwell Namata (as owners of companies) were not happy with how the division of funds was going. And what happened was that A WEEK BEFORE Sithole was caught, armed thugs with guns raided Sithole’s house and stole K62million (£ 119,753.14). Some insiders say it was Max, Pika and Ralph who sent these thugs to Sithole’s house. The theft can be verified with LINGADZI POLICE STATION because Sithole is said to have reported the theft to police. This also explains why Wapona Kita rushed to defend Sithole. Which is why Ralph Kasambara was so concerned that he decided to go to Paul Mphwiyo and the Reserve Bank, as Government cheques are effectively cleared through Reserve Bank of Malawi using Commercial Banks as agents.

When Paul Mphwiyo heard this, there was an argument and he began threatening Pika, Maxwell Namata, Ralph and Hophmally that he would out them unless the thugs should return the money to Sithole. Mphwiyo said he didn’t care of the consequences because after all he was not the one who personally was affecting the fund in the IFMIS system; instead it was his junior officer.

This is where things went horribly wrong, there was anger against Mphwiyo, and one night the following days, Wapona Kita and Ralph Kasambara went to the house of Paul Mphwiyo to warn him that he could be killed because Maxwell Namata, Pika Manondo and the likes of Makande were not happy. This is what led to Mphwiyos shooting and people at the Ministry of Finance know this. In fact quite a good number would be willing to verify this information in confidence, if it wouldn’t threaten their jobs and lives.

As of 18th September 2013 Pika Manondo is in South Africa and Maxwell Namata was also in South Africa, but on a trip connected to China. However, some people believe a South African assassin has been hired to kill Mphwiyo, and his life is currently in danger.

*********************************The Response********************************

Ralph Kasambara and Wapona Kita have denied the allegations, and called them defamatory and malicious. They say these allegations come from people who wish them ill. In particular on Sithole’s K120 million case, Kita said while he is involved, it is not true that the instructions for him to represent Sithole in the case came from Kasambara as alleged. Further, Kasambara dismissed the allegations, saying  he has never been to the Budget Director’s office or his house, and Mphwiyo’s CCTV [which we can assume wasn’t tampered with] can prove this.

But it remains to be seen how true some of these allegations are, more so since Pika Manondo has now been put on Interpol’s wanted list. If the above story was entirely false, how has Manondo ended up on an Interpol wanted list?? :

manondo

[**** UPDATE -30 SEPTEMBER 2013MAXWELL NAMATA ARRESTED **** like above, if this story was entirely false, how has Namata been arrested in connection with these allegations?]

Some people are concerned that this may just be damage limitation and that Manondo the scapegoat may take the lashes which others duly deserve. However since police investigations are ongoing, this remains to be seen.

A different version of the story (with some similar allegations and naming similar characters)  appears here, on Maravi Post, titled “Marapost enquiry on malawi budget director shooting that triggered donor’s response-friday”. [Update 5th October 2013 – Theres another branch (one of many branches that show the workings of the syndicate) to the saga (now aptly named ‘Cashgate’) here. the K4.2 billion mentioned on this link is equivalent to £7,114,875.55 (Seven Million Pounds) – a hefty sum by any measure]

Whichever of the two versions is the most accurate or closer to the truth, donors are already calling for a swift probe into the matter, and have even offered help. In the interest of transparency and ‘clean hands’, president Joyce Banda would have been wise to take this opportunity to give donors unfettered access to all aspects of this case. Such an action would to an extent help restore public faith in the presidency

These are worrying developments that potentially risk Malawi’s stability, rule of law and reputation,” reads a statement signed by the British High Commissioner Michael Nevin, USA’s ambassador Jeanine Jackson, the head of the EU Delegation Alexander Baum, Germany Ambassador Peter Woeste, Iceland’s Maria Erla Marelsdottir, Ireland’s Liz HigginsJapanese Envoy Fujio Samukawa and Norwegian Mission Head Asbjorn Eidhammer.

As the drama was unfolding, president Joyce Banda (whose People’s Party (PP) is implicated by the allegations in that some of the money was allegedly meant for financing PP’s 2014 election campaign) was on another trip, this time in the US, in Austin, Texas where she even managed to find time to stop by a church, en route to giving an address at the 68th session UN General Assembly. The allegation against PP has a bit of a flavor of the troubles facing Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whose brother (more allegations here), is said to have embezzled US$1 billion from Kabul Bank (in which the brother is a minority shareholder). Part of the funds were said to be for financing Karzai’s re-election. Further, it is said Afghanistan loses 25% of its GDP to corruption, a curious percentage when we’ve just been informed by Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)’s director Justice Rezine Mzikamanda recently that Malawi loses 30% of budget money to corruption.

The question remains where exactly is that money going? And why are those responsible for the embezzlement not brought to book sooner than later?

Despite her assurances that her government is committed to combatting fraud, I wonder how this scandal will play out if indeed there were some people in her party who were in complicity with the swindlers, as the allegations seem to suggest. Will Joyce Banda sack them? How so, when the likes of Ken Kandodo or Khumbo Kachali, who themselves have also had some serious allegations made against them, got to keep their jobs? And if those officials get to keep their jobs, what will have become of one of the world’s most powerful black women, as she is fondly described in some quarters [see Forbes link here]? Word in the grapevine suggests that a cabinet reshuffle is imminent.

But since it’s doubtful whether any thief can voluntarily repent, and since in ages past people in positions of authority have been known to use their influence and power to cover-up wrongdoing (see the experiences in Kenya here and here), if what really happened in this scandal is not unfurled by independent parties unconnected with the wrongdoing, only time will tell whether these allegations hold water, or are in fact false. A complete fabrication. After all, it was only many years after Dr Kamuzu Banda lost power that the scale of misappropriation of public funds that occurred under his watch was revealed. Same story for aChair, same story with Bingu.

Madame President, some of us may have liked the way you began your presidency, but what’s happening now stinks! It stinks a lot. And believe me you, if you do not do what is right to clean up your government, your day of reckoning may be a lot more damaging than that which hit aChair, or what Bingu’s estate is currently going through.

God bless you all, God bless the Republic of Malawi.

***Update 30 September: Maxwell Namata Arrested ****

****** Update 2 October 2013 – Civil Society Organisations threatens to urge Malawians against tax payment: Gives JB 30 days ultimatum  ******

*** Anti Corruption Bureau Arrests man that got paid K1bn ($2.5 million) without having a contract ***

***Update 8th November : Pika Manondo Arrested ****

*****Update 9th November – Former Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara Arrested  via Voice of America *******

*****Update December 30 – Kandoje outsted as Malawi Accountant general over cashgate – redeployed *******

****Update 24th January 2014 – STRIPPING PRESIDENT **** NAKED, SEE HOW SHE STOLE YOUR MONEY MALAWIANS *****

****Update: 27th January 2014 – Former Malawi Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara re-arrested *******

***** Update 30th January 2014 – Pika Manondo Spits Fire, Says president Joyce Banda is shielding Big Fish in Cashgate *****

Reshaping the African Politician – Nick Wright

reshaping-african-leaderIn my quest to find progressive views and forward-thinking ideas which if embraced could potentially improve Malawi’s economic situation, I found myself interviewing Sir Edward Clay, the former British Ambassador to Kenya, whose interview will be posted on this website soon. He spoke about some very interesting things, including introducing me to another individual, a  British historian in the form of Nick Wright, who has spent several years in Africa, including some time in Malawi. It is my pleasure to share with the readership of  this website his insightful observations:-

1. You’ve had some exposure to Malawi and Africa in general… if you were to summarise your experiences, what has been your African experience?

My wife spent several years as a physiotherapist in Mulago Hospital, [in] Kampala. We had several Ugandan friends from that experience. After leaving our jobs in Australia, we enrolled in the (British) Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO): I as teacher of English in Chimwankhunda Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre, Malawi; she as physiotherapist at Malawi Against Polio (MAP), also in Blantyre. We were there for two happy years. I became interested in Malawian politics at that time and started as Malawi correspondent for the London-based Africa Confidential. Journalism of this sort continued for several years after our departure from Malawi in 2001 and obliged me to make several return visits to Malawi in order to conduct interviews. I met the leaders of all major Malawian political parties and the heads of some government departments, foreign embassies, aid-agencies, newspapers and business enterprises.

2. Most of the African countries in which you spent time in gained their independence around early to mid-1960’s. And at the time, Pan-Africanism was probably at its peak, with a freedom fervour sweeping across the continent, something that can probably be compared to what we recently witnessed in North Africa with the so-called ‘Arab spring’; It’s now close to 50 years since those ‘glorious days’, but to what extent in your view have the goals or overarching expectations of ‘independence’ conceptualised by the founding fathers of African countries been realised for the majority of their citizens?

Nkrumah’s pan-African ideal of the 1960s was never adopted because arrogant African presidents, like Hastings Banda, were (and still are) too attached to the trappings of a threadbare sovereignty to be able to surrender all the flags, palaces, UN flummery, and motorcades. I think the Western powers had an interest in divide and rule, too.

I once wrote an article which mourned the collapse of the East African Federation for just such reasons: “Central Africa’s Sovereign Issues”. Regional federations, as stepping-stones to wider unions, make good sense for Africa – especially for land-locked, resource-poor, Malawi – and they must not be allowed to remain the modern taboo that Kamuzu Banda made them.
This is another example, I’m afraid, of too much power in the hands of Presidents who scorn institutions like Parliament, the Judiciary; the printed media; the Civil Service, the Constitution which are set up to be their “checks and balances”. Presidents are told by everybody around them (until they are toppled) that they are God Almighty, and they come to believe it. Only Nyerere came close to the ideal of a model, modest, president, and his modesty was treated with contempt by the others

I developed a healthy respect and liking for individual Malawians but a very strong feeling that Western aid policies were failing Malawi badly. Why? Because: (1)they fed complacency, idleness, irresponsibility and corruption within the Malawian elites; (2)they fed arrogance amongst the expatriate community who were forever in the company of grateful and respectful poor people; (3)they created passivity and feelings of helplessness in ordinary Malawian people, including those in government who had their responsibilities taken away from them. Whilst being aware of the many individual benefits brought to poor Malawians by individual aid- projects, I felt that the real beneficiaries of aid-money in Malawi were: (1)state-presidents and their family members, friends, and hangers-on; (2)the staff of a multitude of NGOs and aid-agencies, and (3)expatriate consultants expensively employed by DFID, the EU, the UN etc to write expert reports. Bingu wa Mutharika was on the right track with his angry denunciations of Western aid but his protestation was undermined by his own lavish personal spending and his grotesque toleration of corruption. How can a person who makes all the decisions in Malawi and whose immediately previous experience was in minibus driving and in the corrupt bureaucracy of COMESA(Bingu) or small business (Muluzi), be trusted to act solely in the public interest of Malawi? Bakili Muluzi was more likeable as a man than Bingu but identical in his failure to distinguish between personal and public.

3. And if such goals and expectations have largely not been met, what are the main reasons as to why they have not been met?

Far too much unchecked power is in the hands of individual Malawians, especially the President, because of the “Big Man” [similar link here] culture which prevails in the country and the weakness of public institutions. The independent national newspapers, like The Nation, do a reasonable investigative job but are easily intimidated by threats to their advertising revenues and by their own lack of resources; the MBC public broadcaster is entirely under government control and biased in favour of government; the Malawian churches retain a sporadic consciousness of their responsibility as “public conscience” of Malawi but are often distracted by their own factionalism. The Parliamentary committees occasionally exercise oversight on public spending but only when in session and they are often starved of vital evidence by government departments and tend to divide on party-lines. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is widely considered to be only for “small-fry” financial criminality, and firmly under presidential control where corruption itself is often centred. Western embassies, (individually and collectively), sometimes exercise a restraining hand on the presidency through their aid-policies, but their staffs are usually too comfortably entrenched in their own luxurious lifestyles, and too suspicious of each other and of China, to risk serious confrontation with the president. The Executive arm of government (effectively the President) is overwhelmingly powerful in Malawi, and this patrimonial model of government filters down to all levels of administration. “L’etat c’est moi”

4. While there has been visible progress in some parts of Africa, when one travels in other parts, especially the rural areas, the story of suffering is the same. If it’s not wars and ethnic violence, then it’s disease and poor healthcare, or famine and hunger, else it’s lack of resources, poverty, corruption…the list goes on.  After over 50 years of foreign intervention and billions of dollars in aid, what in your view is preventing Africa from getting its act together?

Aid is ruining Malawians’ self-respect and their natural honesty and capacity for hard work. Its gradual removal will cause as much consternation in Western donor capitals (“What will Bob Geldof say about all the hungry people?”) as it will in some of the poorest households of Malawi (“See how our politicians can’t provide “Development”). But it is a “bullet” that must be “bitten” for the greater long-term good of Malawi. The Fertiliser Subsidy (FISP) which absorbs most of the agricultural budget has become a millstone around the neck of Malawi’s agricultural development.

The subject of overseas aid is a very important one and for the reasons explained above. Why should the presidency take note of competing institutions when the Executive is virtually guaranteed free money from overseas? Why should government departments do their jobs properly when overseas experts with university degrees in International Development seem to know all the answers? Why should Presidents feel the necessity of proper financial accountability?

All aid should be phased out. The endless tinkering between “good” and “bad” aid will not do for Malawi any more. It is ALL bad! If its abolition means the collapse of Western-style democracy in Malawi, then let it go. It will return in a different, better, African, form!

5. One of the problems that has been cited as holding back the growth of African economies is the relatively low levels of Venture capital investment into Africa, when compared for example with the Venture capital investment that has been flowing into Asia or South America. Do you agree?

Venture capital is largely absent from Malawi, except in uranium-mining at Kayelekera, and in tourism (i.e where Malawian control and profit-taking is minimal)

Nick Wright has worked in the History Department at Adelaide University (1975-1991) and for Africa Confidential as its Malawi correspondent (2003-2010).

Other Articles by Nick Wright: