is not a handicap”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
When the ‘cashgate’ thing unravelled soon after the unprecedented shooting of Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo, a dear friend of mine asked me: “Why are we, Malawians, not angry about this?”
Indeed, one would have expected Malawians to go up in arms demanding not only action on those implicated but also heads of those on whose watch this thing erupted to roll. Indeed in ‘normal’ countries people resign on their own, indeed whole governments abdicate, when such unprecedented things happen.
In the UK, David Blunkett resigned, not once but twice, after – as Home Secretary – there arose claims that his lover’s maid had her visa ‘fast-tracked’, and as Pension Secretary over some gaffe.
In the US, the whole President Richard Nixon resigned after his Republican party was outed bugging the Democrats office in the Watergate building. In fact this scandal gifted the world the term ‘gate’ to denote, yes, scandal.
Even in the more conservative Japan, Reconstruction Minister Ryu Matsumoto resigned barely a week in the job for saying government would only assist disaster-struck locals if they first helped themselves.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also bowed out over charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Before you start accusing me of comparing mangoes and oranges, that this resignation thing is Western, in South Africa Revenue Service Commissioner Oupa Magashula stepped aside after being accused of offering a woman a highly-paid job without following proper procedure.
But in Malawi it was only Joe Manduwa who famously said ‘nay’ to facing murder charges in “a ministerial jacket”.
But looking for a Manduwa in our public officers is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. After the former deputy Agriculture minister the word ‘resignation’ was obliterated from our lexicon.
My good friend Ken Lipenga, perhaps with no fault of his own, lied in Parliament that Bingu’s experimental ‘zero-deficit’ budget had performed wonders. Little did good ol’ Ken know that he was sold a dummy by the Big Kahuna’s blue-eyed boys who literary sexed up the figures with expensive short-term loans from banks.
It took an alert legislator George Nnesa to call his bluff. But good ol’ Ken stuck it out despite an embarrassing mea culpa that he not only lied to Parliament and the nation but to the world as well where we get 40 percent of our budgetary support from.
Even his boss could not fire him because Bingu knew the game Treasury and MRA officials had played had his executive blessing.
Ken was again caught in the cobweb of the cashgate imbroglio. Without accusing my former Editor-in-Chief of anything, the literati should have thrown in the towel for not seeing his boys and girls playing bawo with the Ifmis.
From where I am standing, Ken – if Malawi were a ‘normal’ country – should have wrung his hands and said: “Nation, I knew nothing about this but, as political head at the Ministry of Finance, I am falling on my sword to save government from embarrassment.”
But he waited for Abiti to sack him, perhaps hoping against hope that he had not seen off all his proverbial nine lives.
If truth be told, the cashgate thing has created a crisis of confidence in government. How do people trust a government whose gate-keepers could not see millions, indeed billions, even zillions of kwacha growing feet from the system?
Look, take the Leonard Kalonga guy from the notorious Ministry of Tourism, for example. As Chief Accountant he could not be the initiator, the approver, the signatory and the cashier in the purchase of the hot state-of-the-art Marcopolo buses no one is now refusing to touch.
Surely somebody must have seen the request to buy the mysterious buses and approved of the same. Somebody must have raised the necessary cheque and somebody must have approved it and somebody must have encashed it.
Folks, despite Joyce Banda knocking off 50 percent in the value of our kwacha, surely K520 million is still not small change for Christ’s sake. Somebody must have noticed it. Where was the PS, indeed where was the Budget Director and where was the Secretary to the Treasury?
Good people, was the Accountant General and the Auditor General waiting for some mafiosi to pump lead in the body of the youthful Budget Director to be jolted from their slumber?
And they have the cheek to blame all this satanic plundering of our already anaemic economy on some faulty payment system. They say the Ifmis thing was faulty and therefore Treasury could not trace certain payments.
But, dear God, Mary and Joseph, we surely must have had a ‘System ’ for this Ifmis animal who should have noted hanky-panky activities, to borrow from my senior colleague Zebedee.
The Muckraking community could have forgiven this line of highly competent gate-keepers if someone pilfered only some K100,000. But a cheque of K500,000 cannot be raised, approved, signed for and encashed by one person even in a family business. What more with a cheque of K400 million, indeed K2 billion?