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.

Same **** different players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mukumva? [Are you listening]

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

a few days ago, someone else said:

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

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

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

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

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

teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Coalitions : United we stand…

 

There are many political parties in Malawi. According to this link on Malawi Voice, and another report on the Nation here, there are as many as 46!

Whether this is indeed true or not is indeterminate. However, Wikipedia helpfully lists some of the older of these parties, and interestingly, some of the most recent ones such as James Nyondo’s National Salvation Front (NaSaF) Party and Thoko Banda’s Independent Malawians (which I’m not sure is a political party yet??), which have been newly founded are missing from the list.

There is an interesting phenomenon in Malawi that exhibits itself with reference to the date of a presidential election. Usually, just before an election (several months to a couple of years before), new small political parties begin to emerge, all hoping to make a dent in the electorate. After the election, some of these small parties quickly dissolve, their leaders having jumped ship to become ministers in the government of the election winner. Whether the leaders of these parties (which have been termed ‘briefcase parties’) genuinely believe they can win an election is doubtful? Whether they have the skills, attitude, experience and competence to run a country (or become an effective minister) is even more doubtful? Especially in a country where there are no progress reviews/  reports for ministerial work.  Nevertheless, being a presidential contender is probably better than just standing idly on the sidelines.  As Plato once said:

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Some of the leaders of these parties have had exposure to new ideas, and have skills that Malawi definitely needs. These skills pooled together could have significant benefits for Malawi.

Further, some of the policies these parties (or their leaders) are promising look good on the surface. If implemented as part of a wider vision, they could most definitely move the country forward.

Some people are dismissive of these parties, seeing them as more of extensions of their owners egos, and symptomatic of greed. “Everyone wants to be a president. They just want money” read a comment on a News website.

In view of the recent Cashgate crisis at Capital Hill that has revealed that millions of dollars were embezzled from state coffers, it would be a sign of wisdom, patriotic service and forward thinking if some of these small parties formally began discussions on manifestos, constitutions, ideology and principles, with a view to finding common ground on which to join hands and form one alternative large contender for the 2014 elections, a party / coalition without the baggage of the MCP, UDF, DPP, PP lineage.

In this regard, it would be important to map a grassroots strategy designed to challenge the egoistic, regionalistic, neopatrimonial, ageistic, propagandistic politics that is inherently dishonest, corrupt, recycles politicians and keeps out young, talented and well-informed candidates from participating in politics in Malawi. Here, it would probably be expedient to solicit expert help from agencies such as Blue State Digital (the media agency that successfully campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008) which are skilled in such elections issues. However to do this requires financial backing…

With such pooled resources, expert input, an integrated skill base and financial backing, I believe the resulting machinery is something that would have a serious chance of lobbying donors and convincing a big percentage of the Malawian electorate to finally turn their backs on the corrupt elitism that has gripped Malawi for close to 50 years now. Together with the likes of Mark Katsonga (who is well-funded but has a comparatively small following), even the young Muluzi could be material outside UDF than within it.

Who said he has to be president first time even without substantial ministerial experience” declared a friend  “Why can’t he serve for 5 – 10 years as a minister, and succeed in such a position, gaining some experience, before putting his name forward for leadership within this coalition

Personally, I think a new platform would hugely benefit not only the young Muluzi, but also the likes of newcomers such as Lazarus Chakwera. Its an inescapable fact that in order to get rid of graft and fraud within government, the monopoly over politics by the major parties has to be done away with. Chakwera has been exposed to progressive ideas, and critically appears to be a man of high integrity, which are good qualities in a leader. However, the sins (and personalities) of the old MCP may alienate some voters from supporting him. Further, suppose Chakwera won the 2014 election within MCP, who will be his ministers? Will we not see some former MCP, DPP, UDF (or even PP) bigwigs returning to the fore? Will the likes of Tembo not begin exerting some kind of influence behind Chakwera?

I think my money (and Malawi’s taxes, donor funds, etc.) would be in much safer hands  (and managed by more enlightened minds) if a coalition were to be formed (however wishful this may sound) that included Lazarus Chakwera, Kamuzu Chibambo, Atupele Muluzi, George MNESA, Thoko Banda, Mark Katsonga, and other promising but non-establishment hopefuls. Leaders with integrity (or who at least appear to be clean and have nothing of great concern behind them to cause alarm).

Hopefully such a coalition / party would be advised by knowledgeable and incorruptible types – the likes of Henry Kachaje and John Kapito – who we know to be decent and credible characters.

While presently (and in view of the Cashgate scandal and recent revelations about DPP’s misuse of state funds) I would not vote for any of the big political parties in Malawi, or any of the small ones individually, I would definitely vote for such a coalition!

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