“This nonsense must stop!” cried President Peter Mutharika the other day in response to widespread criticism of his suggestion that in their efforts to stay alive amidst hunger and starvation, Malawians should turn to mice and grasshoppers. It is a classic case of pointing at someone with one finger while three other fingers point back at you. To Peter Mutharika, those criticising his hare-brain suggestions were speaking nonsense. To me, it was President Peter Mutharika that was speaking nonsense. As important as food diversification is in these economically perilous times his administration has recklessly brought upon us, solutions should not come in the form of insensitive and careless jokes about foodstuffs that can never ever solve the hunger problem.But there was even worse nonsense to follow from Mutharika the joker.
In that speech, the president did not talk about any solutions his government is implementing on the hunger problem, but instead started talking of how he plans to build a new five star hotel for Blantyre, and yet another football stadium in Blantyre and another in Zomba. Somehow, the president wants Malawians to stop thinking about their empty stomachs and start fantasizing about a football famous nation. Mr President, where will the players come from to play the football if all will have died of hunger? How will you put food in the five star hotels if you are failing to solve the food security problem?
Especially coming from a person who acknowledges that the foundation for Malawi’s economic development was laid by late president Hasting Kamuzu Banda, it boggles the mind what lessons, if any, the president actually learns when he looks through the windows of history and considers his predecessor’s presidency.
The foundational infrastructure that Kamuzu Banda laid out included a vibrant airline, a solid railroad that was owned by the government, a lake steamer service, and a vital and well structured road transportation network that relied on a deliberate and systematically laid out road network. There was a clear laid out plan for economic development; not ad-hoc building projects that are soothing to the presidential ego, but which offer no solution whatsoever to the problems Malawians are facing.
Now when I think of Kamuzu Banda’s kind of foundation for economic development, and consider the foundation that Peter Mutharika is trying to sell the nation, that of football stadiums and five star hotels, I am compelled to say: Mr President, this nonsense must stop!
I am even more compelled to repeat these interesting words from the president when I read in the papers that seven of his cabinet ministers have been implicated in the wholesale plunder of the national purse- the one we refer to as cashgate- in the audit report covering the period 2009 to 2014. Now if ever there was a nonsense that needs to stop, it is the nonsense of having thieves in the cabinet, being paid by the taxpayer, driving expensive limousines and Toyota Prados at the taxpayers expense and living lavish extravagant lives while the poor people they are robing are starving to death.
I would have thought that at the first suggestion that sitting cabinet ministers may have been implicated in this deep-rooted and notorious corruption scandal, the very first thing a president who does not want to tolerate any nonsense would do is to suspend the suspicious seven. Instead, what we are seeing is an administration putting pressure on auditors and reporters and newspapers not to publish the story, or to retract, or to issue press statements defending the government. Shouldn’t it be a simple matter of throwing out of cabinet anyone who is tarnished even in the slightest way by a scandal such as this one?
As of this moment, I believe it is safe to say that if the stories in the press are anything to go by- and with my governance and anti-corruption experience I find it difficult to think of why we shouldn’t trust those reports- then we as Malawians essentially have a government of thieves- at least seven of them.
If we are serious about wanting to rebuild the solid foundation for economic development that we have destroyed over the past so-called multiparty years, then we must understand that this will not happen if we continue to keep thieves in government. One cannot build a nation’s economy using the advice of seven corrupt ministers who may have been responsible for looting MK577 billion of Malawian taxpayers money. That is nonsensical thinking, Mr President, and I challenge you that this nonsense must indeed stop!
Instead of concentrating our efforts on shouting at those that criticise the wayward jokes, perhaps it would be best to examine closely what nonsense we really would like to eliminate as a nation.
I believe talking about stadiums and five-star hotels as building blocks for economic transformation when people are starving is nonsense. I believe shielding your ministers and continuing to receive their advice instead of firing them when they have been implicated in a serious corruption scandal is nonsense. And quite frankly, Mr President, this nonsense must stop!