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Achikulire says: Budget, Cashgate are DPP’s enemies

At 78, Goodall Gondwe—or shall we simply call him GG- should have been enjoying his retirement –or playing with grandchildren–at his home in the Henga Valley after years working for the IMF as a director and being a minister.

Instead, he is today one of the oldest finance ministers on earth, but with a tough job to go with it.

Goodall, as he is popularly known in political circles, was hired in June by APM to head the all-important ministry of money. He is in familiar territory, having been finance minister before under Bingu.

He is credited for the country ‘s economic growth at that time, drawing on his experience as a former director of the IMF, whose job was to advice African governments—including Malawi under founder president HKB- how they should not borrow excessively, promote exports and reduce excessive expenditure, a common practice in Africa.

Goodall has worked for Atcheya as economic advisor before. Then he continued with Bingu. He tried to work with PP, but it was a short stint and he went back to the DPP, which had been thrown into the opposition simply because their leader had died.

His bitter memory could have been when he was charged for treason, albeit for planning with fellow ministers (remember the midnight six?) to block the ascendancy of JB, then vice president, to the presidency after the sudden death of Bingu.

I felt pity for the old man who should have been enjoying his retirement back home, the only job being checking on his bank balances.

But in politics, they also say old soldiers never die. So, when APM won those chaotic elections, the choice of the most important ministry fell on GG. He gladly accepted it, although some quarters felt he was now too old for the job.

He was aware of the challenges of being finance minister after Cashgate, that shameful scheme when civil servants, politicians and business personalities ganged up to steal from state coffers billions of kwachas. The story has been told all over the world and it’s a thriller.

GG has remarked that Cashgate is out of this world. Nowhere else on earth has this happened, GG says.

Depending on whom you want to believe, Cashgate has been touted as a “breakthrough” in exposing graft, while others have said it was the loss of “moral compass”, while villagers who have been told the story simply cannot believe what happened.

The PP short-lived government said Cashgate happened because of weaknesses in the payment system, which made many join the gravy train of stealing. Donors were simply annoyed even though it was not their money which was stolen. They froze some $150 million until we clean the mess.

It is that mess that GG must clean. How he does it is what will make the DPP administration or break it, because donors want to be convinced—not by rhetoric but by action, real action—that nobody is no longer stealing state money which they help to contribute.

GG, a CCAP member, needs a lot of prayers to do his job. Luckily, it looks, he does not believe in TB Joshua, otherwise he could have rushed there to be blessed with holy water and prayed upon so that he does his job better. JB—a CCAP member- and Bingu-a Catholic- were known for rushing to Nigeria to seek blessings from the celebrity pastor, known for his prophesies about African leaders.

I have my own fears about donors unfreezing their money after being convinced that nobody is stealing cash at Capital Hill. That, the way it looks, will take time. My fear is that taking to court over 70 suspects, most whom have hired the best defence lawyers, may take years, even beyond the next elections in 2019.

If the Cashgate issue is not sorted or solved before 2019, the DPP will be in hot political waters and that might cost them the vote. So, at the end of the day, it’s not only the work of GG, but the DPP as a whole to successfully prosecute all suspects and seal-for the last time—all loopholes that led to Cashgate.

Then comes the question of the budget.

How does GG balance the budget, which is full of huge domestic and foreign debts? We are talking of local debts hitting K340 billion and foreign debts in the region of $1.2 billion. It means Malawians are mortgaged to donors and the private sector. Nobody in the past cared to pay for these debts, which accumulated over the years. 

Where do we get the bucks to pay back what belongs to Caesar? Borrow again?

Is GG going to draw a budget that will deliver the services, create employment, please donors, the World Bank and IMF and make that villager in Nsanje and Chitipa happy?

The budget, I believe, will be closely watched on how good or bad it will be. Should DPP screw it in their first budget, then it will take a long time for Malawians to forget. And like vultures waiting for their prey, Malawians these days are also like vultures who wait for five years to show their dissatisfaction with that important piece of paper-the ballot.

 It is business as usual, DPP? The choice is yours.

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