he jury is still out on whether the Kachali Inquiry report is worth the paper it was printed on.
So Finance Minister Ken Lipenga has been exonerated from the MRA accounts fiddling scandal. According to Vice President Khumbo Kachali, there were very powerful people in the Ministry of Finance and the Malawi Revenue Authority who reduced Mapwiya to a mere father-figure.
My! I am not sure whether this absolution is a plus on the CV of good ol' Ken. What does that say of a minister whose juniors played Monopoly with government money under his nose? These are the guys he was supposed to work with - not for. All the figures he spewed, public statements and policy pronouncements he made came from this cabal of power-players. Were they not selling Malawians and the world dummies through Dr. Lipenga all these years?
This is not a good time to be Kenneth Diston Lipenga because although he has been exonerated and may well hold on to his plum job, most Malawians will still view him as the minister who was sold a lie he never spotted. I personally have huge respect for my former Editor-in-Chief that I immediately gave him the benefit of the doubt when he made his passionate protestations of ignorance after months of procrastination. Did the poor guy not own up himself that he presented to Parliament cooked up figures?
I must hasten to say, however, that anyone who expected anything more than a de facto acquittal for Dr. Lipenga was overly - if not unrealistically - optimistic. From the beginning it was clear President Joyce Banda was not keen on firing her moneyman. Her revelation that it was actually the minister himself who demanded a probe into the affair was clear sign that his job was as good as safe.
By the way, an inquiry comprising his cabinet colleagues was a walk-over for Ken; Khumbo and friends surely would not have wanted to be too hard on a buddy lest they would be similarly treated should they be found in similar situations themselves.
If truth be told, there was no need to investigate this affair after all. The facts were there for all to see and the President and the rest of discerning Malawians knew the players and the roles each one of them played. Some of us knew Ken was simply a pawn, the real movers and shakers hid under junior-ish titles.
But that does not begin to absolve the Finance Minister of blame. When George Nnesa blew the whistle for the first time last February the minister could be given the benefit of the doubt when he claimed he did not know a thing about the mafia-like book-balancing. But after the Balaka legislator's whistle-blowing surely good ol' Ken must have worked the phones and must have learnt the whole truth soon after.
We can therefore safely conclude that when the then ruling DPP attack machine came back to harangue Nnesa the next time the issue came up on the parliamentary floor on March 1 Ken was surely - and clearly - a willing participant in the classic piece of deception mathematics.
But I understand why Ken, in spite of himself, must have elected to sustain the lie; he didn’t know that barely a month later their bulwark Bingu wouldn’t be there to shield him and his brothers-in-crime.
Now that at least Dr. Lipenga can finally sleep soundly we have to draw some lessons from the MRA affair. I personally don’t blame the Finance Minister for the mess he found himself in. He wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near state coffers in the first place. With hindsight one would be tempted to believe that Ken was put in that ministry so that this shadowy group of powerful cheats would twiddle with figures without him noticing.
Perhaps it is high time appointees learnt to say 'thanks, but no thanks' to some of these strange appointments if they feel they are being appointed to positions they are least qualified for. People learn skills in school. By the time they finish secondary school they pretty much know what they can specialise in and they confirm this at the university or whatever post-secondary school training they take. There is no way one can expect to learn a new skill after doing all the training after secondary school and tertiary education.
Dr. Lipenga is a fine literati, academic and journalist. He could have been more useful at Information or Education. In fact he already did tours of duty at the Education and Information and he didn’t disappoint; one wonders therefore what President Mutharika was thinking to push a man of letters to a field of numbers, as it were.
Another lesson to be learnt from this saga is that cronyism can pay handsomely but it doesn’t last. The cabal of powerful people at both Treasury and MRA that made a fool out of poor Ken are capable people in their own right. They knew what they were supposed to do. But because the guy who put them there was an all-powerful personage they thought they could get away with murder. They knew that what they were doing was procedurally wrong but there was a big man with a big ego to please. They could’ve told the Big Kahuna the truth about the folly that was the Zero-Deficit Budget. But, hey, they didn’t want to spoil the fun!
The sudden death of Bingu therefore exposed their folly and it was too late for them to cover their nakedness.
The moral of the story is: always be true to the truth whatever the consequences. Imagine if Ken had admitted he was sold a dummy immediately Nnesa had blown the whistle. Bingu could’ve most predictably fired him but he could’ve had the last hearty laugh.
Look now what is happening; Bingu is peacefully resting at his purpose-built mausoleum but Lloyd Muhara and Joseph Mwanamveka have no job while good ol' Ken is moving with egg all over his face.