It is over 13 months since Malawi wake up to a story of a near fatal shooting of the then Budget Director in the Ministry of Finance, Paul Mphwiyo. It is this story that sparked revelations of systematic looting of government resources (cashgate). So far, there have been two convictions and over 70 arrests in connection with cashgate. Anti Corruption Bureau, the graft busting body has publicly confirmed that there are more arrests to be made in the coming days.
Mphwiyo, a supposed government corruption buster, according to then State President, Joyce Banda, has also been arrested, suspected for the very same crimes he was supposedly fighting against. When it gets to this point you realise that the whole system is rotten. Will Joyce Banda appear in court to defend her claims that Mr Mphwiyo nearly lost his life fighting against corruption within the Malawi government?
From Bakili Muluzi to Peter Mutharika, Malawi presidents have always talked tough against corruption but in reality corruption appear to have flourished at all levels of the state. Donors who fund up to 40% of the national budget are withholding their support demanding that Malawi government sort out its financial systems and deal with culprits of cashgate satisfactorily.
Public mood suggests that Malawians have moved on and the country is back to what it does best: politicking. After all, to most Malawians cashgate is just another case in which those in power help themselves from the public purse anyway. Ask ordinary folks on the streets and you will get this perception. This is why politicians and civil servants steal with impunity. Ever wondered why donors are more livid about cashgate than Malawians?
There are a lot of disaffected Malawians that have resigned to the fact their government will never do anything for them. I am aware of a seemingly patriotic talk that Malawians cannot always wait for their government to provide for them. The truth is that there is a limitation to what ordinary citizens can do without state intervention. Beside, the government has a mandate to provide for its people and, likewise, Malawians have the right to demand efficient service delivery from their government. It is on this principle that citizens pay tax. Never underplay this fact.
Paul Mason, a British economics journalist recently wrote in The Guardian that persistent economic problems make people fatalistic. “[An] average person learns the true meaning of “inshallah”; the Arabic phrase denoting resignation to the will of God,” he observed. Adding that people “become resigned to the economy screwed, resigned to the rich getting richer … resigned to the possibility that all political heroes however noble – will betray us.”
After cashgate, how many Malawians still have trust in politicians? What have politicians, in power or otherwise done on cashgate that Malawians can be proud of? I wrote on this page three weeks ago that to demand recognition is merely human, a condition identified by Plato, the Greek philosopher, as thymos. It is this condition that drive history, to a large extent. Dictatorships fall; economies and political systems change when people demand equality and justice.
Meanwhile, cashgate has shown that the political elite and their associates share among themselves the bounties of this land. Cashgate has confirmed what most Malawians already suspected. It appears that Malawians have become accustomed to political corruption that they see it as normal. The governance and political system is a charade as it is. Instead of challenging and work to change the status quo as it were, opposition politicians have opted to call for federalism, others in the north have suggested an outright secession.
The federalism debate has since taken hold. I have utmost respect for those who fight for justice where it is denied and I believe social, economic and political injustices are among key issues hindering social and economic development in Malawi. The federalists and secessionist have genuine frustrations and they must be heard. The only curious thing is that these demands are top-down. This makes the demands cynical, for cynics like myself, at least.
Social, political and economic inequalities are a catalyst for disharmony and calls for federalism and succession are understandable but this begs a question, if politicians can manage to successfully start a debate on this pertinent issue why have they failed to do the same on equally important issues that are driving social, economic and political inequalities?
It is not a secret that the State President has too much powers in this country, we know that President Peter Mutharika is aware of this because his party promised to reduce presidential powers should they win. Those fronting the federalism debate are in parliament; why not push for reduction of presidential powers?
Why not push for enactment of transparency and accountability laws such as access to information and declaration of asserts? And not only for individuals but also political parties, should Malawians still not know where political parties get their funding from? Is federalism/ succession the best solution to these perennial problems?