Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
“Earth provides enough
every man's needs,
but not every man's greed”
― Mahatma Gandhi
What else is there to muckrake about this week other than Bingu’s billions?
Is it not ironic that while we were pestering former president Bakili Muluzi to explain how some K1.7 billion of donor money somehow found itself hiding in his personal account, Bingu was busy trying to outdo his mentor-turned-nemesis? Seriously, Bingu has made Atcheya look like an altar boy punished for sipping half a glass of mass wine while the priest had looked away.
Look, it is not a crime to have K61 billion to your name but what kind of business was Bingu into to earn him that filthy lot in eight years? Drugs? Human trafficking?
For the record, the presidency - in itself - is not a well-paying job. Some company CEOs make much more than the President’s honest salary.
By the way, I have used the word ‘honest’ advisedly here.
When you are president you are entitled to everything gratis but even if Bingu was not touching his salary in the 95 months he has been president of the Republic of Malawi he could not have amassed K61 billion. The best he could have made, assuming he was not touching his salary, is under K140 million. Even if you throw in his many global-trotting allowances he could have hardly glossed over a billion.
Granted, he declared – questionably so, I must add – a net wealth of K150 million comprising a farm in Zimbabwe and some property here in Malawi when he assumed office. But, if truth be told, Bingu was not known for his business acumen. Most companies connected to him, including his Zimbabwe farm, a newspaper and a radio station, failed to tick on his watch.
There were reports of his workers at the Bineth Farm in Zimbabwe going for months on end without pay, just like the newspaper his daughter tried to run in Lilongwe, to say nothing of a radio station he tried to establish which now just plays monotonous computer-generated music.
He had farms, of course, where he used to grow tobacco but - unless he was not selling his leaf at our auction floors at Kanengo - he could not have been minting a billion kwacha from his tobacco in a year.
So where in the world did the K61 billion come from?
Of course, we know where it came from – us. Although Bingu is not with us to answer for his alleged sins, evidence abound that he found it difficult to separate public property from his own. Case in point is the University of Science and Technology (MUST).
After he literally stole it from Lilongwe to plant it on his Ndata Farm in Thyolo, many of us were hoodwinked to think that the President was being charitable to give up his personal land to the university gratis. Little did we know that his action was nowhere near charitable. Despite it being constructed from a loan from China, which our children will have to pay back through the nose, Bingu shamelessly placed MUST under his personal Bineth Trust.
This ordinarily means, if you did not know, that all proceeds the university would have been making – be they fees, grants or research earnings – would have gone to the Bineth Trust, his personal trust.
If that is not daylight robbery - Jesus, Mary and Joseph – then there are no thieves in the whole wide world!
Bingu has joined the sorry list of African dictators like Mobutu Sesse Seko and Muammar Ghadafi who made their countries ‘personal to holder’.
Bingu’s billions must be forfeited to government forthwith. It is said that MUST – which he wanted to steal from us – is looking for around K25 billion for furniture and laboratories for it to open. Government must use Bingu’s billions to fund MUST. After all, the university is public and Bingu’s billions are public as well.
Perhaps it is high time we, Malawians, reclaimed our authority over our elected leaders. Bingu clearly was able to fiddle with the public purse because the presidency is way too powerful. Laws are there just for show.
The law on declaration of assets must be reviewed for it to grow teeth. Perhaps instead of making elected leaders declare their assets after assuming office, they must do so when they express interest to run for office. Because the presidency is way too powerful, it becomes difficult to enforce these laws once they are in office.
Another way of checking abuse of office is to enact laws that bar leaders from directly getting involved in national deals like mining and constructions. Because leaders are allowed to ‘negotiate’ these deals they personalise them. We heard about Bingu’s all-expenses-paid junkets to Perth in Australia and the Algarve in Portugal. Your guess is as good as mine who were picking the tab.
In a country where half the population scratches out a living on less than K300-a-day, it is pure greed - if not outright criminal - for a leader to amass such obscene wealth.
Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
We heard from DPP apologists that the 2014 will be like no other. We heard of helicopters being bought to fly their anointed candidate all over the place.
We thought these guys were joking – as usual. But, no, they were seriously not. They knew they had a cool K61 billion stashed away somewhere to oil their campaign.
For the record, Bingu has not been convicted of any wrong-doing – for now. But we know for sure he did not amass the K61 billion through honest means.
Before Bingu became president, his brother Arthur Peter Mutharika led the quite life of a small community university professor in Washington.
Teachers, by their nature, are humble, unpretentious beings. Before ‘big brother’ invited him home on an unofficial consultancy deal on constitutional matters, Peter was the humble school-teacher we have always known him to be.
But good old Peter soon sniffed the whiff of money and power and soon begun to scramble presidential helicopters to the skies just to light up street lights in Mzuzu when the lot of us were queuing for hours on end on petrol lines courtesy of his brother’s arrogant economic policies. At one point his convoy was even longer than that of the then elected Vice President Joyce Banda.
Peter is currently on a campaign to become CEO of Malawi Inc., to succeed his brother. The political mathematics currently at play is clear: come 2014 those who can realistically hope to occupy ‘Plot Number One’ are Joyce Banda, Peter Mutharika and Atupele Muluzi.
The MCP still has an outside chance to beat the rap but the oldest party in the land will blow it if it will continue dithering on whether it is the same old obaba or that US-trained cleric or that farmer or the former head of the bench fronting its ticket.
Anyway, back to Peter…the guy has a lot of explaining to do. We know that apart from being his brother’s brother, the professor really does not have any qualification to run for office, any office.
All this time he has been running on the strength of his brother. Now in the wake of the obscene revelations about his big brother’s ‘long fingers’ does Peter still has the moral authority to claim to be the change agent?
We know his expensive campaign will be funded by his brother’s soiled estate. Will we, as a country, send to State House a guy sponsored by ill-gotten wealth?
Unless Peter publicly disassociates himself from his brother, it will be difficult to trust that the professor will not just continue from where his brother left off. As a bona fide Malawian, Peter has all the rights to occupy any office in Malawi but Malawians also have the right to ask questions.
Peter must convince us he will not play the game of ‘monopoly’ with our hard-earned hard cash as his brother did. Malawians deserve better.
Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
Anastasia Msosa enters the history books to become Malawi’s first woman Chief Justice. She joins a growing legion of women ‘firsts’ that include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Joyce Banda of Malawi and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the African Union in Addis Ababa.
Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
“Habits in life
are only useful
if they are broken
as soon as they cease to be advantageous”
W. Somerset Maugham
A very important incident went unreported – even unnoticed – last week when President Joyce Banda was returning from her six-country junket that spanned three continents. A Kenyan Airways flight, bound for Nairobi, was forced to delay for a good 30 minutes at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) because passengers could not board the aircraft since the airport apron was taken over by the President’s welcoming party.
Of course most of us missed Abiti. Was she not out of the country for the good part of the month? We wanted to see her, to hear her voice, to shake her executive hand, to tell her we care, we love her et al. Indeed we just wanted to be there as our dear leader jetted back...to be seen.
But could we not have welcomed her without inconveniencing others? The President was not to blame, I must quickly add. She did not organise the welcoming party.
But do the protocol people – are they called Public Events? – not know that there is a mini-stadium right at KIA? That stadium is not only there for show, for decoration. Why could they not assemble us there and leave the airport apron free to serve what it was originally built for?
Airports are very sensitive places. You cannot let hundreds of people roam all over the place aimlessly. With hundreds of people all over the place what may happen if – God forbid! – a plane misses the runway?
Malawians are notoriously famous for not respecting time but a plane has to take off on time for some passengers may be connecting to other destinations on other scheduled flights. Some passengers may have as little as 30 minutes to switch planes.
And missing connecting flights can be very costly. First, you spend an unscheduled day in a country you did not plan to stop over. Most airlines refuse to foot your hotel and other bills if they are not directly responsible for your missing the connecting flight. Some may even charge you extra fees to put you on the next scheduled flight.
And there may not be daily connecting flights to some destinations which means that you have to spend more than one day while waiting for the next flight. Shauri yako if the purpose of your journey is attending a schedule conference!
By the way, the KIA incident set me thinking: is it not high time we shed some of our wasteful national habits? Is it cost-effective for the economy to grind to a halt just because the President is returning from her official duties?
Look, we can argue that ‘but this has been the tradition since the Kamuzu days’. Well and good, but - like I have quoted W. Somerset Maugham of old above - should we still perpetuate traditions whose usefulness is no longer quantifiable?
Look, how many man-hours do we lose by closing offices to line up at the airport ‘just to be seen’? Can we afford to waste time in an economy struggling to recover from recession?
The President must be allowed to jet in quietly, board her limo and take a well-deserved rest at Kamuzu Palace before Hastings Khumbo Kachali briefs her on the state of the nation. After all, at 63, she is not spring chicken, after ten hours of continuous flying she needs time to stretch her legs and shed off jet lag.
Bingu, for all his faults in his latter days, tried to revolutionise our politics during his first days in office. A story is told of how he used to go to his Capital Hill offices almost daily. Each day he used to find yellow-clad women (he was still UDF then) camped at the gates.
One day he stopped his limo and rolled down the window and told the women: “Pitani ku ntchito kwanu, nane ndikupita kuntchito kwanga, zandale tipanga weekend” (“Go to your respective jobs, I'm only going to mine, we will do politics at the weekend”.)
Of course when he founded the DPP veterans advised him - wrongly, I must dare say - that he needed his party's presence to be felt everywhere if it had to grow quickly.
My point is, do we really have to suspend everything just to follow our leaders? Joyce Banda is only doing her day job when she departs for an international assignment or when she jets back from one. Why should we suspend our day jobs then to escort her off or welcome her back? The economy she is trying to resuscitate cannot – indeed should not - sustain such wanton wastefulness.
Some of these well-kept practices are not sustainable. During these welcoming parties people are ferried all over the place, some to perform dances, others just to be there. Tax-payers money is involved.
These are needless costs we can do without.
Written by Author
of a free society
is a society
where it is safe to be unpopular"
--Adlai E. Stevenson Jr
So Friday, June the 14th, marked 20 years since Malawians unanimously voted to be free - free from want, free to speak, free to dress whatever they wanted, free to be free.
It feels surreal that certain things that we take for granted nowadays couldn’t be done some 20 years ago. Imagine women being banned from wearing trousers or miniskirts. Imagine men being locked up for wearing bell-bottom trousers or dreadlocks. Imagine…
But 20-odd years later are we really free?
The answer, I guess, is “yes” and “no”.
“Yes” because, yes, we are free. While hitherto the media was heavily controlled nowadays anyone can pretty much publish anything without looking over their shoulders.
I can’t imagine how it was to work as a journalist when information was heavily controlled. This might sound like an exaggeration but some of us grew up thinking that some big brother was eavesdropping even on our thoughts!
I also believe not many born after 1993 would believe that you could not enter a produce market without an MCP membership card. If that is hard to believe what about the fact that pregnant women were asked to buy two MCP membership cards, one for them, the other for their unborn baby?!
Now Malawians have the freedom to belong to whatever political party they fancy. You can even belong to more than one party for crying out loud! Indeed you can even choose not to belong to any political at all.
So there’s plenty of evidence that Malawians are enjoying fruits of freedom.
But is freedom to be free the be-all, end all of freedom?
I guess not.
Poverty figures still look scary. According to the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, 51 per cent of Malawians are still living in abject poverty. Indeed year in, year out millions of Malawians scavenge for food regardless of how good a season has been.
So how can a country consider itself free if over half of its people can’t afford a smile because they are hungry, cold and sick? Is freedom meaningful if – as a country – we still haven’t worked out the magic formulae to end poverty and hunger?
Next year Malawi will celebrate its Golden Jubilee as a nation state. We’ve been a nation state for half a century and yet 90 per cent of our agriculture is scratched from hoes.
For our freedom and democracy to be meaningful we must graduate from being a nation of paupers. We can achieve this if we re-define our politics. Politics must stop being a vehicle for aggrandisement for a select few. We must practice politics that benefits every one of us.
We can do this by depoliticising sharing of the national cake. For example, I must not qualify for public appointment based on the colour of the party I belong to. I must qualify because I am a bona fide citizen of the country.
Appointing cronies and party apparatchik to public office leads to stagnation of development which will result in our being free without anything to show for it.
By the way, what was the rationale behind deleting June 14 as a public holiday? I am no fan of public holidays. We’ve so many useless holidays we can do without.
But June 14 is significant on our calendar. This was the day Malawi was re-born. We must consider re-instating this day as a public holiday.