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.

Citizen led Development

CitizenActivism

The problem with Malawi is everyone wants to be president. Whether this is as a direct result of enduring bad and inefficient government for so many years, under several clowns who somehow managed to lay claim to the crown of public office, or whether this phenomenon is a misinterpretation of what democracy actually is, by a largely closed-minded and ignorant rural population – I do not know for sure.

What I do know, is every noisy little fella (and it’s often a man), with his 2 tambala of broken english wants to be the president. Just buy him a few bottles of Carlsberg and play some Afrobeats tunes, bokobo, doro bucci, skelewu or anything like that and within no time he’ll begin telling you what he’ll do if elected president, even though he’s never held public office let alone been a member of any political party.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against competent people being of service to Malawi. My worry is incompetent people wanting to undertake such service.

I’ve been around many a drunk fella. From the carefree high school days of imbibing on Redds outside the benches of Chichiri shopping mall in Blantyre, admiring the beautiful girls ordering take-aways at Hungry Lion (or was it Wimpy ?) – then catching a minibus to Ndirande in time to get back into school before the 6pm head count; I remember the pub crawling days at Nottingham Uni. – when you’d return at 3 or 4 am to your bed (and the next day fail to remember exactly how you got back, or who the person sleeping next to you was). At that time, you were still expected to be at your lectures at 9am, and yes a register of attendance was taken; I remember the nights at Kwacha in Nottingham, where Malawians would argue with Nigerians over as simple a concept as whether the free movement of people in the SADC region was helpful…trust me I’ve seen many a caroused character.

But strangely, it’s only Malawians who uncover their political ambitions when drunk?? None of the Nigerians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, English, Australian, American or Malaysian nationals I’ve encountered at pubs or drinking places in the past talk of politics when drunk?? Maybe it’s also down to the people I’ve mixed with…?

But still, it makes me wonder: Is the Malawian attitude to politics (if such a thing can be said to exist) part of the problem. That too many of us want to have a crack at steak on the bone, when we have no teeth, and can barely tackle porridge? When, in the proverbial sense, we are but babes.

No wonder then that too many of our politicians have no clue on what running a country entails – as evidenced by bad decision after the next. Because they got into politics for the wrong reasons, they fell into it: As they say in Chichewa, Anangogweramo. They have not studied Public administration, or been working in an official capacity, discharging or administering a public service or function to the public, for any considerable length of time, how on earth are they supposed to know what the business of government is all about? Sadly, many assume that being in power equates to doing anything you like – often with public funds? And funny enough, the people, those being governed (who elect the officials to power), also wrongly assume that ‘boma’ can do pretty much anything they like.

Or  I’m I missing something?

This is the challenge facing Malawi: of ‘rampaging’ public officials drunk with power, abusing their positions in the face of an ignorant, resigned and powerless populace; neglecting their responsibilities in preference to self-enrichment.

All this is happening on the full-watch of toothless Civil Society Organisations, and in the face of the donor community, who it appears are happy to look the other way.

Here, a comment is appropriate. Seeing that donors have refused to resume budgetary aid, because of the corruption and looting of public funds, I wonder what else they can do – to ‘encourage‘ good governance?

Lets speculate for a moment.

Is it conceivable, I wonder, for donor countries who have in the past supported Malawi via budgetary aid, to begin funding entrepreneurs? Not throwing $200 to the guy selling charcoal or tomatoes, or mbewa by the side of the road in Dedza, no, not that entrepreneur – if you can even call him that.

What I mean is why can’t donor countries support the kind of entrepreneurs who can create wealth for hundreds or thousands of people in Malawi? As in the cooperative which is trying to buy a plough and combine harvester to farm 50 acres of land; or the activist who is speaking out to power, demanding good governance, and has a sizeable following… Maybe let me rephrase the question… Why don’t donors begin funding Social entrepreneurs, including ACTIVISTS – if both groups can be assisted to create jobs for other MalawiansWith the understanding, a very clear understanding that their impact should be designed to have a domino effect towards achieving wider developmental outcomes?

Malawi needs everything. From a mental and political transformation (often talked about by many other far better placed commentators), to decent and well resourced hospitals, Malawi needs to improve its security (or a sense thereof), it needs reliable utilities (Water and Power), quality education … better customer service, the whole lot.

But the common denominator that stagnates any prospect of change, in all if not most sectors, and that is in critical shortage, is resources in terms of funding. Instead of looking away, donors should transform the way they work in Malawi and other African countries, and begin providing resources to those people or organisations who truly want to make a difference. I’m not saying its easy or simple. What I’m saying is it is necessary.

Some people may be asking how this is going to work? How practical is this? Well, I think it is practical, because how many other ways can you create self-sustainability that does not involve the government, if not dealing directly with the people?

What they could do is create a portal (which I can create for them by the way) where requests for funds for certain projects can be made online? The donors can then have a team that will vet and review these requests and respond accordingly.

What about those people without access to the internet? Well, what about an application process by post or in person, communicated to unconnected communities for example using radio adverts…or if they want to do more, a mobile awareness campaign using a van such as the one below, which would have a team on board to review face-to-face proposals in the communities they broadcast?

mobile-radio-tv

They could even partner with TNM and Airtel to market such a scheme, and utilise the reliable networks of these telecom companies.

In the past, the usual responses to these kind of questions is we are already funding entrepreneurs. And that’s not our role, usually communicated in sentences that include words such as ‘ambit’ and  ‘mandate’…

If the ultimate goal of donors is to encourage good governance and effect development, then it is within their mandate to help provide resources. It’s all well and good providing funds for food, education and healthcare, but if after you’ve cured peoples diseases,and educated them, they have no job to go to, or no sustainable way of earning a living, what’s the point of giving them aid in the first place? If they then have to struggle to get by. Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that creates dependency?

A nonprofit that practices social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, relies less heavily on donor funds because it creates social programs that are meant to be self-sustaining. Social entrepreneurs manage donor contributions in an effective manner, investing in social ventures which can then generate their own revenues to sustain themselves. More here

But why does it matter Sangwani, why is it important? Why should anybody care?

Well, firstly as a Malawian it matters when I see so many competent young men and women who are not utilising their full potential because of lack of money. That’s a real concern which I’m sure is shared by thousands if not tens of thousands others.

But it also matters because in a centralised governance system such as that in Malawi – where everyone looks to the president to sort out all their little problems, lack of resources is holding back well-meaning people from acting independently to develop their part of the country. It’s a waste of talent and it’s holding them back from helping plug the shortfall in the different aspects of our economy; especially since the government is not doing many of the things they should be doing.

And this situation is not sustainable because too many capable people are powerless to effect the kind of change Malawi needs – with the result that the country is not moving forward. And come next election, in 2019, the largely ignorant rural population I mentioned earlier will be conned again into voting for another white elephant, and the vicious cycle will repeat itself all over again, worsening the living condItions, and bringing Malawi ever closer towards becoming a poor failed violent state. In the ranks of Somalia and Yemen. Surely, neither donors nor Malawians want this.

Also, there is evidence that successive governments in Malawi have taken advantage of this lack of funding to abuse their positions, and engage in dodgy deals, costing the tax payer. There are too many examples to cite, but two that come to mind are the Jetgate (the alleged sale of a presidential jet by President Joyce Banda – the funds of which were never accounted for), and the recent report that showed that $2 billion had been misappropriated by government officials the last 6 years.  How come none of the CSO’s sued the government on behalf of the public over these major instances of misappropriation of funds? Further, why does it look increasingly likely that many of the perpetrators of such misappropriation will get away with it?

Finally, lack of funding encourages corruption because otherwise decent people are forced to go begging to the government, the presidency or the presiden’s party – because they have no money – instead of them speaking out against bad governance and government’s failures in tackling societal ills.

Former Malawian President Joyce Banda named as witness in Cashgate Case

JB-abitiThis morning’s Nation newspaper has a cover story in which former president of Malawi Joyce Banda has been named yet again as a witness in the court case against Pika Manondo.

Manondo is being accused as involved in the plot to kill former budget director Paul Mphwiyo; an attempted murder that unravelled the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill by public officials including civil servants and cabinet ministers, locally dubbed Cashgate scandal.

Joyce Banda was first named a witness in the Cashgate related case against former minister of justice and constitutional affairs Ralph Kasambara, but she refused to testify. She had claimed a few hours after the shooting that she knew people who had shot Mphwiyo, but later retracted her claim, saying she knew that the people were enemies of Malawi. Legal experts say her comments may lead to a charge of contempt of court if she subsequently does not show up after being summoned to appear as a witness. Unlike before, when she had presidential immunity, she currently cannot claim such protections as a former president – a cause some people believe drove her to leave the country soon after the elections.

It will be interesting what will happen this time around, since she has not returned to Malawi since leaving after losing the May 2014 elections. Further, Paul Mphwiyo is now answering charges of Tax evasion and corruption, and does not appear to be the victim Malawians were first led to believe.

What is strange with the news about Banda being summoned is that the report quotes Manondo’s lawyer as saying that discussions as to whether to summon Banda or not have not been concluded by the defence??

More information can be found here (Malawi Nation).

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.

Press Reform: Time to create an independent media watchdog for Media Organisations in Malawi

projector-64149_1280Who regulates the Media in Malawi?

Who is it that will confront  the many dodgy online (and some who are not online) publications that have been known to create false stories against public figures out of no-where? What code of conduct do they subscribe to? Who is it that they are answerable to? Are their writers trained journalists conversant with established journalistic inquiry methods? What standards do they observe when they go about crafting their menace? When they concoct their heresies – who can chastise them? Who gets to rebuke those who push out false material into the unsuspecting public in an everything-goes fashion?

I’ve not suddenly become pro-establishment. I’ve not suddenly woken up today and dreamily decided to attack press freedoms.What I’m asking after a long contemplation of the news coming out of Malawi News portals in recent months is what exactly constitutes press freedoms? Can writing a story that one knows is false, that one knows didn’t happen, or that one suspects couldn’t be true, all in an attempt to create a stir, or appease a financier, does that qualify as ‘press freedoms’?

The questions above need to be carefully considered for a good number of reasons.

Firstly, as many Malawians who follow the news will know, we have been misled quite a number of times by the news agencies, and various publications, over issues from president Joyce Banda’s dealings in office, to  the current president’s sexuality. It’s simply not fair, or sustainable, or even professional for such kind of rubbish-pit chicanery to continue to splatter the media. Think false or twisted stories against some Malawians, including Jessie Kabwila, and much recently against Thoko Banda and many others.

Those who write these stories will obviously have justifications for creating them. Any fool can do that. It takes a real professional to independently verify a story before presenting it as ‘fact’. It takes a real professional to separate fact from allegation. What is also interesting, especially in online news portals, is that in regards to most such false stories, as soon as the authors are confronted, they quickly backtrack and delete these stories – issuing an apology. But only after thousands of readers have already accessed the fabrications. After the damage has already been done. Often than not, the story leaves behind a record, a trail which can be used to unfairly taint a character – many years later.

It’s simply not sustainable for Malawi’s media organisations to operate like this. There has to be some basic standards and fair reporting.

Secondly, some of the Media organisations are owned by politicians. Or by people with direct affiliations to political parties and politicians. So, what they publish is invariably going to favour their patrons. Which is not always good, especially if they begin to unfairly attack other politicians or groups opposed to their patrons. Further, there are some media organisations in Malawi, which in an attempt to bring down an opponent will publish material that is false, or will twist facts to present a sensationalist picture that is not entirely true. One that does injustice to the individual concerned. Obviously this is not right, and you can not use ‘freedom of speech’ to justify such behaviour.

‘What about MACRA (Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority)?’ I hear you say. Can’t they regulate this environment? Isn’t that their job? Well, they have been described as ‘poorly managed‘ by the 2006-2007 Media Sustainability Index Report. They have been accused of pro government bias. In my view, MACRA is overburdened by other things. Their organisation is already stretched in dealing with issues such as tax evasion by telecom companies, unauthorised broadcasting by the same, and other tedious issues. They are not ideally equipped to scrutinise as many media outfits in the land to ensure that what is published is, firstly true, and secondly in line with the type of code of conduct I hereby propose. Further, if MACRA went about demanding integrity and quashing rumour and propaganda in online publications, such behaviour is likely to come across as anti-democratic, and may even qualify as censorship, simply because MACRA is a government institution.

‘You are advocating press Censorship’ I hear another say.

And why would I do that? If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll realise that I’m quite liberal in my thinking. I often publish material on accountability, fair and even distribution of wealth, anti-corruption and such themes. Why then would I suddenly become a chum of the powers that be, and advocate censorship? There’s a difference between on one hand propriety and abiding by professional standards that aim to preserve integrity and professionalism, and on the other hand censorship. Asking that publications must verify the truthfulness of a story before publishing it is not censorship. Instead, it is ensuring that fabricated rumour and other gooble-de-gook doesn’t pass-off as news. At its bare bones, I’m advocating a quality check.

I believe what the European Court of Human rights once said (Castells vs Spain): “Freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of their political leaders. In particular, it gives politicians the opportunity to reflect and comment on the preoccupations of public opinion; it thus enables everyone to participate in the free political debate which is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society”

Words which echoed Theodore Roosevelt, when he said ” Free Speech exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free.”

But this free political debate only works if the public opinion or the ‘free speech’ that is published is in fact true. It can’t work if the stories are false or fabricated with the intention of character assassination or otherwise.

What about the recent E-bill?

Well, it doesn’t go far enough, and critically it focusses the power in the hands of the government via MACRA, the regulator, which as I said above is restrictive. Like the current framework, it is not sufficient. What is needed instead is a framework run by an independent body with neither political nor neopatrimonial interests.

So what form will this new regulator take?

Well, assuming that we agree that the current state of play is not sustainable, we will probably also agree that self-regulation is not an option. Similarly, if  the likes of MACRA have been accused of interfering, or being pressured by the state to interfere with the media, then they are probably not the ones to front this.

Thus, taking a simplistic view, what I propose is a Malawi Media Monitoring Commission that will have a parliament sanctioned Professional Charter and Code of Conduct. Its role will be to uphold standards in the media and communications industry.

It’s not going to be that simple. Public Affairs Committee (PAC) will need to take an active role in formulating that code of conduct, and a public consultation will need to be launched, to ensure that views of ordinary Malawians are taken into account, and that the executive does not monopolise or influence the organisation.

Why all the hassle?

Because the role of a free press is to hold the government to account. It should not work the other way round. And you cannot have a free press if there are few or no standards being observed, or if the government attempts to stifle or gag the press via instruments such as the E-bill. Leaving the formulation of this important aspect of democracy to parliament alone can compromise its independence and thereby press freedoms.

The Commission will be led by a commissioner on a 2 year contract, appointed by a committee including members of PAC and some parliamentarians. In order to minimise costs, the office of the commissioner will have no more than 10 fully paid members of staff, whose duties will include advocating the merits of a free impartial and professional press, sensitizing the public about the code of conduct of the watchdog, running seminars for journalists and members of the media, investigating complaints, dealing with reports of false and fabricated stories, investigating false stories, imposing fines against unscrupulous media outlets, enforcement, and in particularly acute cases, proposing the prosecution of media organisations or their employees. It will operate separately from MACRA, although it will need to work with the police to ensure that the public’s faith in the regulatory structure is restored. Further, MACRA will be obliged to pass on any complaints of unfair reporting they receive to the new commission.

To me this sounds like a more functional and independent system with much better prospects of creating a media that is responsible, and that puts leaders to task, than the current framework. In any case, it prevents concentration of power in the arms of the executive or legislature.

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.

A Public Affairs Committee (PAC) where government ministers are booed

The government in Malawi may have sunk to a new low. There was a Public Affairs Committee (PAC) last week where two ministers representing the government of Malawi, Fahad Assani and Maxwell Mkwezalamba were booed by attendees, which included members of CSO organisations.

The conference was organised following the government’s failure to provide Malawians with convincing answers regarding the Cashgate scandal, and the forensic report.

Among the highlights / questions posed in the conference were:

  • Demands as to why the police have not arrested former budget director Paul Mphwiyo, when he is heavily implicated, and whether he was being protected?
  • Why government had not impounded the property of businessman, Oswald Lutepo – who is implicated in the cashgate scandal?
  • Why law enforcers have not impounded 22 vehicles which Lutepo donated to the ruling People’s Party, when there is evidence that the money he used to acquire those vehicles was looted at Capital Hill ?
  • When cashgate cases will be concluded, and those guilty prosecuted?
  • Why the government could not account for, or was failing to clearly explain where the proceeds from the presidential jet sale had gone. President Joyce Banda had promised to sell the jet which Bingu wa Mutharika had bought, and the government of Malawi had disclosed that the jet had been sold to Bohnox enterprises, an arms dealer. Yet there was no evidence of transfer of funds, and on more than one occasion the president was seen using the same jet, to the surprise of many Malawians.

Similar links

Malawi Government, Zodiak radio to Award Best Performing Secondary Teachers

Malawi Government, Zodiak radio to Award Best Performing Secondary Teachers via AllAfrica

The story in the above link is inspiring and president Joyce Banda’s government and Zodiak must be commended for beginning this. While some may say it is an election ploy, I hope this initiative continues after the May elections, irrespective of who is eventually elected, because we need to inspire teachers for them to do their job well.

I have a profound belief that continuity in nation building is what builds nations, not a me me attitude that selfishly sees a leader abandon works in which millions have already been invested – just because it wasn’t their idea….

Abandoning the major and critical projects of your predecessor only reveals your ignorance and selfishness more than anything else. So, in the event that Joyce Banda is not re-elected, it will be foolish for the new president to halt all of Joyce Banda’s major projects.

And you don’t have to agree with each project to continue supporting it, and pushing for its successful completion. So long as there are people who are genuinely being assisted by the project, and so long as the cost is not ridiculously expensive, and unsustainable, those are reasons enough to continue in the positive footsteps of your predecessor – even if he/ she had abandoned their predecessors projects.

Comment is spot on

I’ll do something uncharacteristic today (not that I’m new to bending the rules).

I recently saw an interesting article on This is Africa’s website about Joyce Banda, and asked the author whether I could republish it on Malawi Ace. Thankfully, the author, Levi Kabwato – who I do not personally know, but have heard of – agreed, and I intended to republish his article in full. Except, I’ve decided not to republish it in the normal sense of what that usually would entail :-).

Not exactly, because I saw a comment below the article which in my view sums up the situation in Malawi rather nicely. Whether the comment – from one Bob Newman – is true or not is an entirely different story, however this comment – although short, carries some gravity and to quite a degree echoes some of the themes (e.g. complacency, [false]prophets, greed, extravagance, lack of assertiveness, inability to hold leaders accountable) I have been preaching on this blog. So, while I’ll include a link to the actual article, I’ve decided that it makes a lot more sense to publish the comment instead.

And here is the comment:

Newman“Joyce Banda like the rest of Malawi’s politicians is greedy! She never gave up the unnecessary expenses like the 23 car motorcade that nearly ran me and my young family off the road as we holidayed in that country. It was all an act for the donors, or maybe she did mean it all, and then forgot. Or maybe Malawians with their complacency are tainted because they want a magic wand to solve their problems, their own are in need but as long as the individuals who do have and able, then its not their problem. Supposedly a God fearing nation, people spouting miracles and love, obsessed with “prophets” who will bring them wealth, marriage and even babies. Instead of helping themselves by enriching the lives of their fellow citizen and trying to rise about the defeated oppressed state of mind. Its sickening to watch. So another leader comes into power this may, same promises etc but they will never be held accountable because their people can’t be bothered and have a very short attention span. Good luck to the lot of them.”

And the article