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Break-out time

“Before God
we are all equally wise
and
equally foolish”
– Albert Einstein

I bumped into former Finance Minister Friday Jumbe in a department store in Blantyre last Friday. After the usual pleasantries I could not resist popping the question – jokingly though – about whether he wished he was still at Capital Hill today where millions seem to be had with relative ease nowadays.

I did not expect an answer, of course; the presidential laughter (remember he is president of some party) I got was all I had bargained for.

But, seriously, I asked Jumbe whether he thought what is happening on Capital Hill is unprecedented.

“No,” he said emphatically. “I think this has been in the making for some five, six years, this is just break-out time.”

Jumbe’s honest supposition is quite interesting. It is easy to blame all this flux on Capital Hill on the laxity of controls on the current leadership.

I must say, the Joyce Banda administration is not helping matters by behaving in a ‘business as usual’ mode, as if all is normal. Raphael Tenthani

I must say, the Joyce Banda administration is not helping matters by behaving in a ‘business as usual’ mode, as if all is normal. Abiti left for her extended trip to the United Nations when the issue was just erupting. Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo had just been shot in a mafia-style operation when President Banda was about to hit the skies for the Big Apple to address the world.

She in fact made some unfortunate remarks that she knew not only who was behind the hit but the motive as well.

Soon after the Mphwiyo shooting it was ‘open sesame’ on Capital Hill. It is no longer news that some lowly civil servant has been caught with stacks and stacks of ill-gotten kwacha stashed under a bed or in the trunk of a car. What is news now is how much is involved.

How it started

It started with some lowly civil servant being found with millions of kwacha after a maid helped herself to some K3 million after she stumbled on the loot as she did her cleaning chores.

After that it was free-for-all. Figures from as measly as K250,000 to as obscene as K1 billion are being linked to civil servants whose honest pay-slips hardly register K100,000.

In fact, as I write this, the Anti-Corruption Bureau has just nailed an Assistant Accountant in the Office of the President and Cabinet who allegedly made out payment vouchers totalling a whopping K1 billion to International Procurement Services which records show had no business contract with OPC.

Too boot, according to the ACB, Frank Mwanza was found with cash amounting to K120,000,000 in cash on his person back in August.

So what is happening?

Is the fact that people are being caught with the proverbial ‘hand in the cookie jar’ a sign that someone is fighting corruption successfully or just an indication of how much rot we have to contend with? Raphael Tenthani

Is the fact that people are being caught with the proverbial ‘hand in the cookie jar’ a sign that someone is fighting corruption successfully or just an indication of how much rot we have to contend with?

That our government financial system is in a mess – or, to be apt – is a mess is clear.

What is also clear is that Joyce Banda inherited a corrupt system that needs serious overhauling. She has two choices: clean up the mess or continue as business as usual.

President Banda came on the scene as a change agent. She has to show that she is on top of things. She has to act decisively. Gone should be the days when the systems makes an arrest, the subject is given bail and that is the end of the matter.

If truth be told, trust in her government is fast waning. She has to show us she is in control if she has to regain that trust. Politics of patronage will not help her.

She faces crucial elections in under ten months. Voters need assurance that the President is in control.

It does not matter whether the looting begun before her time. The fact is that the break-out time is happening on her watch. How she acts will make or break her presidency.

Donors still have confidence in her. But they, too, are watching how she acts. There are calls for heads to roll in the wake of the madness on Capital Hill. In a normal country some people could have thrown in the towel on their own.

 But Malawi is nowhere near normal. 

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