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.

Does Education matter in Malawian Politics?

We vote for politicians because we want our country to do better. We stand queueing for hours to pick a president and member of parliament of our choice. We wait anxiously by the radio for results, but it seems that no matter who we elect in Malawi, we end up being disappointed. By now we all know that most Malawian politicians are opportunists who have over the years acquired impeccable skills in ‘party migration’. They are skilled in image reinvention and tactful only when their personal interests are on the line. For years, politicians in Malawi have played this game with us and I wonder whether education has a part to play in all of this.  Is it because we have set the bar too low for politicians in terms of education?

Politicians are a special people because billions of people in the world  depend on them to solve the many global societal problems. In representative democracies, politicians are employed to make policies which reflect the wants and needs of the electorate. Through political manifestos, the electorate make choices on who is better poised to govern and through the ballot box, politicians are entrusted with the most important jobs on earth. It is therefore important that the electorate through their choices pick the best men and women who have the ability to achieve positive results for their countries.

box-321776_640The phenomenon of globalisation has changed the nature of international politics through the interconnectedness of different states in the world. Transnational Corporations have sprung up all around the world. States co-operate with each other on inter-state relational matters through international organisations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation to name a few. The game of politics has changed at the world stage and competition between states through international treaties requires witty  politicians to make positive gains for their respective countries. For countries to win, there is need to employ politicians that have the necessary skills in international politics to compete with their counterparts. The international stage is where all the treaties concerning trade, security, the environment and other pressing national matters are negotiated. It is where our fate as a country is sealed through our negotiation skills and capabilities.

Malawi being part of this competitive global world needs brilliant minds to compete at the international level with other countries. Whatever politicians do at the domestic level still has an impact on us as a nation because we are living in a globalised world. We need capable minds that can be able to sit and challenge ‘hand me down’ policies that have for years held African countries down. Malawi needs people who can initiate policies that can increase our comparative advantage in the area of international trade. I therefore believe that it is only through education that we can be able to disseminate the complex world of inter-state  relations in the new liberal world order.

It is therefore questionable that the most important jobs in the country only require an ‘o’ level certificate as the minimum qualification.  Some of the leaders we elect in our parliament only have an ‘o’ level certificate and it is highly doubtful that knowledge attained at this level can produce minds that can initiate structural transformation in Malawi. Politicians are responsible for developing countries, and the content and scope of knowledge at ‘o’ level is insufficient  for one to grasp the intricate world of development theories. If we are serious about advancing our standing at the international stage, an ‘o’ level mind will not be able to compete with the many brilliant minds out there. The international realm is about competition and if we are to have a chance at diversifying our economy, then a Malawi School Leaving Certificate will fail us.

This country fails because we employ people who are not qualified for their jobs. We have seen ministers heading ministries with the wrong qualification or without any tertiary qualification on their portfolios. We have seen ambassadors being appointed to head embassies without any prior qualification or knowledge in international relations/politics. We have some members of parliament who only have an ‘o’ level certificate and then we wonder why these MPs spend 5 years just clapping hands as solutions to our problems. We have councillors that do not even know what town planning is all about and then we wonder why a nightclub is opened next to people’s homes.

This is why our parliament is passive when it comes to enforcing the clauses in laws in section 65. This is why our presidents to not even care to declare their assets at the start of their term as required by law. Parliamentarians are supposed to ensure that the constitution of Malawi is respected by all political parties. However, time and again, our MPs let us down because most cannot even realise the seriousness of not upholding the constitution.

I therefore firmly believe that Malawi needs tertiary educated politicians starting from top to bottom. And if they are educated, their qualification should be at least relevant to their posting. We need politicians who are qualified to grasp the challenges facing a developing country such as Malawi. Most non governmental organisations doing developmental work at the district level in this country require staff with a tertiary education. It is then absurd that the most important jobs in this country only requires a secondary school education.

Ahmed Dassu Letter to President Joyce Banda

On Jun 7, 2013, at 2:42 PM, Ahmed Dassu wrote:

 Excellency

 I refer to your response to my request for an audience during your visit to London for the G8 summit, which was “not available. JB,” which appears both intentionally abrupt and unbefitting of your high office and public servant number one!  Therefore I feel it prudent to address in this email the issues I had wished to discuss with you had you granted me the audience, in order to avoid any misrepresentation or misunderstanding.

 That I share a passionate interest in Malawi and its future with my colleagues Edgar and Thom of Nyasa Times, as I do with many other Malawians is widely known.  Arising from this I had expressed to Edgar and Thom some concerns regarding recent political developments and the continued unabated and open corruption in the sector of public procurement, and asked if Nyasa Times would carry an opinion piece by me, expressing these concerns.  Instead both Edgar and Thom suggested that as you were travelling to London soon I should meet you, Excellency, to put across my concerns directly.  This is what prompted me to request an audience with you.

 Turning first to the political scene.  On President Mutharika death, although I had previously expressed deep reservations about your leadership in a TV interview on MTV, I was amongst the first to publicly demand that constitutional order should prevail, and that as Vice-President you should be sworn in as President.  I convinced others to do the same, including a person who had during President Mutharika’s administration been at the forefront of publicly humiliating you and who had publicly demanded press censorship – now a leading office-bearer in your party, the PP. 

 Indeed on your swearing-in as President, in common with a majority of Malawians, I considered this as a Godsend for a new beginning for Malawi; this conviction was further strengthened by the words of wisdom in your inaugural address to the nation – full of promise and hope.

 Sadly, in office instead of being the stateswoman we had all expected you to be, you practise the politics of marginalisation and victimisation based on whether one is perceived to be your supporter or not. Instead of honouring the high expectations we Malawians built up on your assuming office, your Presidency is built and sustained on the foundations of Members of Parliament, now transformed into political prostitutes who who have been induced to defect from their own parties to your party by patronage and corruption , which the high office of President enables you to practise. Given the opportunity I would have pleaded with you, Excellency that it was not too late for you to live up to the high expectations and hope for a new beginning that were aroused on your ascendancy to the highest office in the country.  That you should focus on how Malawians judge you and how they will perceive you in posterity, and be the stateswoman that the world assumes you are instead of the power hungry, corrupt, vindictive woman, engaged in theft of public funds and who will do whatever it takes to remain in power, which is what a majority of Malawians now see you as doing.  What we see is you practising the politics of marginalisation and victimisation, all glitter in orange with no substance where it concerns democracy, accountability and transparency. 

 You are not minded to accept that you were not elected to the high office of President, just as your party was not elected to govern.  It is blatantly obvious that you are subjecting Section 65 to the patronage and corruption to sustain you an unelected President, in office instead of leading Malawi by consensus.  You have followed in the footsteps of President Mutharika and set aside Section 65 by encouraging resort to courts in the usurping of the powers of Parliament. You have condoned and sheltered those ‘political prostitutes’ who have defected to your party. In a parliamentary democracy there can be no more damning indictment.  Sadly the Speaker himself has fallen victim to allowing the usurping of the powers enshrined in the Constitution for Parliament and become a political prostitute himself.

Turning now to the issue of business, I believe that Edgar and Thom had conveyed to you the need for the wiping out of corruption in government procurement so that companies like mine and others which were prejudiced during President Mutharika’a administration could be encouraged to submit competitive tenders for fertilizer and in other areas of government procurement and thereby reduce costs and improve delivery.  

 It may be foolhardy to ask you to recall, so in the light of what has since transpired, so permit me to remind you that as Vice-President you had publicly said that President Mutharika had institutionalised corruption in government procurement of fertilizer and that you would be exposing the corruption. So it was reasonable, your having implied President Mutharika was corruptly awarding government contracts to selective companies, that these companies were guilty accomplices in the corruption of which you accused President Mutharika.  However in office you have proved no less corrupt, in fact even more so, as immediately on assuming office you proceeded to award contracts for the supply of fertilizer to the very same Indian-owned companies, except for a black indigenous Malawian who, because of his tribe and colour, was identified as a supporter of President Mutharika, when in fact he was no more a supporter of Mutharika then were Abdul Master, Apollo or the other Indians who are paying you millions of Dollars in corrupt deals.

 Indeed the vast unexplained assets and resources now at your and your party’s disposal since you assumed office are ample evidence of the high level of corruption in your government.  I go so far as to challenge the very concept of the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme as being a manifestation of the unprecedented corrupt practices and an instrument for the bribing of voters with corruptly acquired funds by you. For as if you were cheating children in a kindergarten you cloud your corrupt misdeeds by telling Malawians that “I personally and my friends will fund the fertilizer for the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme”. Where will the funds come from? No doubt the public purse that you are busy looting.

 And who are these friends other than those who are awarded the government contracts by you corruptly?

 In conclusion let me add that I know that in writing to you I expose myself to your reknown vindictive nature and possible victimization by you.  But I shall persevere whatever consequences I am made to suffer, for the struggle for a better, democratic, free Malawi, free from the hunger for power of individual politicians like you have turned out to be, is one I have engaged in since 1972.  My commitment to Mother Malawi is for Malawians to judge.  Indeed, I am convinced posterity will judge me a far better citizen of Malawi  than contemporary politicians like you have done.

God Bless Malawi

 Ahmed Dassu

Source: The Oracle