Allan Ntata
Z Allan Ntata

President Mutharika’s utterances at the national anticorruption conference held last week have all the hallmarks of the double-think of George Orwell’s 1984.

If you haven’t read the book, double-think involves holding two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. This means that when your actions contradict your words, you actually believe your own propaganda.

Examples of Peter Mutharika’s double-think abound, but nowhere is it more apparent than his stance on corruption. How often have we seen cadets and pro-government commentators praising the President for his tough talk on corruption?

Shockingly, even Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu, at one time a reputable, astute lawyer, has now joined the praise-singer bandwagon.

My worry is that it always ends with rhetoric. Action never follows.

When the President launched the DPP’s manifesto before the last election, he promised that the DPP would step up measures in the fight against corruption within its ranks and the State, that there would be no more cashgate like there was under Joyce Banda, blah blah blah blah!

The president promised to reduce presidential powers and make the ACB truly free and independent to fight corruption even and especially when senior government or party officials are involved.

Yet, we have seen no measures introduced to actually do anything about corruption. Instead, we have had the president actively blocking legislation in parliament that would reduce his powers and make the ACB truly independent, while increasing anti-corruption rhetoric at national conferences and elsewhere.

These repeated anti-corruption promises are deeply ironic given the cloud of corruption that hangs over Mutharika’s administration. Extreme doublethink must be necessary for Mutharika to speak of a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption when he knows how many allegations of corruption hang over his own head and on the heads of his cabinet ministers, Party officials and his most trusted confidants.

Furthermore, as he attacks corruption, President Mutharika knows that the DPP has undermined the independence of the ACB to avoid DPP leaders such as Dr George Chaponda, Kondwani Nankhumwa and Richard Makondi, and even himself to be truly investigated. The Constitution itself is being sacrificed to the DPP’s corruption.

What’s more, just like Joyce Banda, the DPP has also set up front companies to institutionalise corruption. Straight, institutionalised corruption. Even Malawi’s development partners, at that very conference last week, opined that Mutharika is failing to fight corruption. In the words of the European ambassador: “…Rules and regulations designed to create checks and balances are simply not [being] implemented or flouted.

This is not only observed in general administration of the public sector (as highlighted by the PSR review) but in particular also with large-scale procurements….

Over the last year we have witnessed questionable procurements around large-scale purchases of maize and more recently the awarding of a large contract to pump water from Salima and Lilongwe. What messages are being sent if a 500 Million US Dollar contract takes place under restricted tender within a very short time frame and more so without feasibility studies and environmental impact assessment?”

So, a pattern is emerging in the Peter Mutharika administration: the more corrupt the DPP becomes, the tougher its anti-corruption public stance is purportedly demonstrated through useless conferences. Indeed, this is how double-think works.

The graver the deed, the greater the falsehood required to neutralise it in one’s mind. It is time for everyone to realise that corruption is not just an aberration in the DPP that must be ‘rooted out’ from time to time.

It seems to me that the DPP needs corruption to survive. It is its lifeblood. It needs it to fund its election campaigns. It needs it to pay the loyalty networks necessary for DPP politicians to entrench their power. And it needs corruption to pay for its leadership’s lifestyles. DPP leaders in the party, the state, and in business have become an interlocked network of patronage and corruption.

Everyone knows that everyone else is corrupt, so they cover up for each other, and abuse power to tighten their grip, undermining independent institutions and eliminating opposition both inside and outside the Party. In the process, Peter Mutharika and the DPP are turning Malawi into a criminal state. What will it take to get us out of this sordid mess?

The obvious thing would be for President Mutharika to stop talking about corruption and take decisive action to actually expose and prevent it. He could announce anti-corruption measures such as allowing the ACB to truly investigate George Chaponda and all other senior party officials, or stop the Lakegate scandal involving the Lake Malawi water project altogether, demanding a new tendering process.

He could announce laws that prevent cabinet ministers, their companies and other government employees from doing business with government. And, he could stop the deployment of cadets and party cadres to parastatals and especially to institutions integral to the fight against corruption.

He could re-instate the independence of the ACB to expose and prosecute corruption without fear or favour. But Peter Mutharika cannot do any of these things without exposing himself and his closest political allies to criminal prosecution.

The criminal justice system and now even the Malawi Revenue Authority all have been perverted as instrument for persecuting political opponents and protecting political allies.  The cause of the entrenchment of corruption is the reality within that senior DPP members have so much dirt on each other that they dare not take action against corruption.

If one goes down, he will take the rest down with them. Mutharika cannot go beyond rhetoric and take real action against corruption for fear of alienating those who have enough information to bring him down.

So instead, his time and energy is spent in empty rhetoric and in fighting against the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) for rebuking his administration’s corruption. This, my friends, is the consequence of endemic corruption. If we dig deep enough, I believe we would discover that Peter Mutharika continues to benefit from corrupt DPP activity. Otherwise, his passivity on a matter so important to the economic growth of the country suggests he must be too thoughtless to recognise the importance, and deaf to all the messages given to him by development partners.

Mutharika cannot get tough on corruption, even if he wanted to because his cronies, the ones he relies on for political support benefit from corruption too much. Not only this, the DPP benefits. Most of all Peter Mutharika himself benefits.

I have challenged President Mutharika to walk the talk on public service reforms and encourage the passing of legislation that will reduce political interference (especially from the president) on independent institutions. I have challenged him to keep and fulfil the promises he made in the DPP manifesto and his election campaign. I am still waiting for his response. But I am not holding my breath.

After all, he is caught in a corruption gridlock. He has too much to lose from taking decisive action against graft. But what Mutharika and his cronies need to understand is that, if they do not act against corruption in their ranks soon, they will lose in the end.

They must remember that we live in a democracy and that they are subject to the will of the people. The time will come when even the DPP’s staunchest supporters will realise what their party has become.

The only remedy available in a democracy is to vote for an alternative. The sooner the DPP realises that the honeymoon is over, the better…

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