“Corruption costs Malawi MK412.5 billion”, “MW2063 agenda faces corruption threat”, “13 suppliers Boycott AIP”, “10 AIP suppliers yet to sign contracts”, “Malawi helpless on price increases”, “Patients forced to skip meals” and “Bureaucracy irks Lazarus Chakwera” were some of this week’s headlines.

All these point to one thing: Malawi is in dire need of a leader. Not just a leader, a leader who can inspire, walk his talk, and make tough decisions, promptly.

Before I go on, I must give it to the editors of our dailies; they’re doing a hell of a job coining different headlines day after day. If I were in their shoes this week, from Monday through Friday, one headline saying: “Despite promises to the contrary, the War of Armageddon is here” would have sufficed.

Let me unpack.

On 15 September 2018, President Lazarus Chakwera, then serving as the Opposition leader, released a statement titled “My first hundred days as president”.

In it, he identified three priorities. The first was creating jobs and wealth. Declaring war on theft was the second and Restructuring state institutions, the third.

Today it is clear that when making those commitments, President Chakwera was probably unaware of Woody Allen’s wise words: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”. Or else, giddy with whatever, he wanted to make God laugh out loud.

Look here, by the time the gods smiled on Chakwera and relocated him from his private to the State Residence, Covid-19 had made a number on the world, making the attainment of priority number one, “Creating jobs and wealth” a feat challenging even for developed countries.

That said and granted that the global economic outlook is dire, one can forgive President Chakwera for his dismal and counterproductive, if not self-serving performance vis-à-vis “public appointments” under his or his minions’ control.

However, the same does not apply to priority numbers two [Declaring war on theft] and three [Restructuring state institutions].

In fact, if you remember, Chakwera established what is being referred to as the Chilima Commission earlier this year. That commission did the needful and delivered a report, complete with actionable recommendations, which could have enabled Chakwera to kill two birds with one stone by:

– significantly reducing opportunities and incidences of theft of public resources and

– laying the foundation stone for rebooting the virus-infested systems.

Given a choice between walking his 15 September 2018 talk and appeasing whosoever he is beholden to, Chakwera has chosen the easy way out. Nine months later, he is still sitting on the report and its recommendations.

Check this: if the recommendations were idiotic or impossible, by now, his minions would have leaked that report to make Vice President Saulos Chilima look clueless. But no, this report is the one thing that is refusing to circulate in a country where everything leaks.

This speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

Those whose profligate behaviours are why social services are falling apart and Chakwera is increasingly looking inept have so much power over that they are doing everything in their power to sustain the status quo.

You know what? Priority number two, “Declaring war on theft,” is so foundational that Priorities 1 and 3 are nothing without it.

“We live in a country where cabinet ministers can have bags of inexplicable cash with impunity, where Vice Presidents can comfortably remain silent about theft for years, and where Presidents can be sole signatories of accounts that receive millions from businesses that bribe ruling parties to secure government contracts.

The era of thievery and quietly watching it ends on 21 May 2019! In the 100 days that follow:

– I will send a bill to Parliament to fully fund the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and make it independent.

– I will send a bill to Parliament to sever the operational ties between the State’s resources and the ruling party’s.

– I will direct that all government contracts be reviewed and audited for conflicts of interest.

– I will put all government officials who head departments or approve contracts under a lifestyle audit.

– I will begin the groundwork for establishing a special Anti-Corruption Court to handle graft cases with speed.

– I will give NO AMNESTY to thieves. They’ve been giving amnesty to each other for 25 years, and enough is enough.”

This was Chakwera. Then, a man of the people. Where is that Chakwera today?

Today, credible reports abound that some of his cabinet ministers have inexplicably become overnight billionaires. Chakwera’s own Vice President is “comfortably silent about theft” and about the recommendations made to the president, now gathering dust at Sanjika.

There is more.

As you might recall, the 2021/22 budget did not “fully fund the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)”. Neither has Chakwera severed operational ties between State and ruling parties’ resources”. Nor has he directed “that all government contracts be reviewed and audited for conflicts of interests”. Nor has he instituted any “lifestyle audits”, let alone move towards “establishing a special Anti-Corruption Court to handle graft cases with speed”.

Come to think of it, at the pace that the investigations and cases are dragging, one can say without fear contradiction that President Chakwera has granted thieves AMNESTY.

No wonder the Anti-Corruption Bureau Director-General Martha Chizuma’s indictment:

“Levels of corruption in Malawi remain alarming, and those indulging in these acts are more and more becoming people entrusted with our public purse, who on public forums say all the right words while, behind the scenes, their actions are different”.

Madam Chizuma hit the nail right on its head. Rhetoric and actions are not matching at all levels. No exceptions.

This is why some district hospitals, contrary to the kudya katatu (three meals a day) campaign promise, are now rationing food for patients by scaling down from three meals to two per day. Karonga, Rumphi, Mangochi and Salima district hospital authorities confirmed they were feeding patients either breakfast and lunch or just breakfast and dinner.

Hearing this, my heart burns, and my eyes swell with tears. O empathy, thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their compassion!

Let’s say all countries are struggling with economic havoc caused by Covid19, and resources, already scarce, are getting scarcer. Is this not more reason to accelerate on the forgotten Priority Numbers 2 and 3?

For Christ’s sake, who and what is stopping President Chakwera from plugging the leakage, pilferage, and wastage by declaring war on theft and restructuring /reforming state institutions and systems?

After all, the likasa (clues), i.e., the Chilima Report, has been sitting on his desk for months. If the recommendations therein are nonsensical – which I do not believe to be the case, let Chakwera publish so that we can read them and dialogue on the way forward.

Mr President, Malawians’ patience is wearing thin.

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