If you take the time to think about it carefully and dispassionately, then you must come to the conclusion that what is surprising is not the fact that the United States government finally decided call time OUT on funding Malawi’s unrepentantly corrupt government, but the fact that it kept faith with it and continued to fund it for so long.
For a government that came to power on the back of the castigation of its predecessor for the famous “Cashgate” corruption and the promise to deal with corruption with a zero-tolerance approach, it is an epitome of failure to have an important donor fund such as the US$350 million Millennium Challenge Account compact discontinued because of corruption.
For those that are strangers in Jerusalem, I am talking here of the most recent sad news for our beloved Malawi. The story is that the
Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) board of directors met on December 19, 2017 and concluded that entrenched corruption in the power sector and poor governance disqualified Malawi from renewed funding on this particular compact.
Now I have already heard government apologists claiming that there is no need for alarm. They claim that the US$ 350 Million compact, which is coming to an end, is a 5-year arrangement that has never been extended in any country. The September closure, they insist, has therefore nothing to do with corruption as reported in the media. This is simply propaganda being championed by misguided politicians to gain political mileage.
As many know by now, my concern in these situations has always been that it is this very kind of thinking that derails the country and keeps it in retrogression. The apologists that are defending the Peter Mutharika administration on this claim either do not know much about the requirements for the continuity of US Aid, or are simply licking the boots of the current administration, as is always the case in Malawi.
I wonder if it has dawned on these apologists that it is these very sort of perspectives and proclamations of this nature that encourage the government to continue with their business as usual approach, and not address corruption in the country.
The truth of the matter is that the Malawian Corruption account is the chief obstacle for many good things that could come to Malawi. Everyone knows that foreign Aid donors frown on corruption, as they should. If the US$350 million dollar account had no possibility of being renewed, then no one in their right sense would have bothered to cite corruption and governance failures as the reason for the discontinuance. Whether or not the continuation of such a compact has ever taken place in other countries is irrelevant. What should be relevant to us Malawians is the fact that a major donor has pointed at our Corruption and governance failures as the reason for their decision not to renew it for us.
I do not think President Peter Mutharika or any of his senior people need to be reminded that corruption undermines development and reduces the effectiveness of development aid. Illicit financial flows and overnight millionaire-politicians are a consequence of flourishing corrupt practices. In Malawi, these donors have witnessed the plight of low-income households and businesses being made to pay a greater proportion of their income in bribes in a bid to access important services. In a country with already exorbitant taxation policies, corruption is acting as an additional regressive tax, since the poor must allocate a greater amount of their income to bribes. The poor are also being subjected to corrupt practices in the course of their routine interactions with public institutions.
Overall, the “Malawi Corruption Account (MCA)” is impacting on the nature of the country’s economic development and is raising income inequality and affecting the poor disproportionately.
It is amazing that a government can assign its apologists to try and brainwash the public into taking the corruption that has been noticed, exposed and condemned by donors through the withholding of aid lightly. It is corruption that is negatively affecting both the volume and the quality of public service delivery in the country. For a given level of government budget and national income, Malawi is achieving lower literacy rates, has higher mortality rates and is overall achieving worse human development outcomes than its neighbours.
Corruption has resulted in the loss of trust in public services; for example, our corrupt education system has prompted parents to withdraw their children from government schools and put them into private schools, which in turn has raised the costs of fees in private schools. The effects of corruption in public service delivery have also had gender-specific effects, as women who are unable to generate income are particularly vulnerable to shortfalls in public service provision.
Somehow, though, when the government fails to have a major aid package renewed and corruption is given as the reason, some Malawians have the audacity to defend the administration and tell it that this is simply a matter of donor malice or political shenanigans.
Indeed in a week when this important matter was reported, Malawians were more concerned and excited to discuss and show their disapproval of a song glorifying rape and violence against women than they were to speak about the fact that their government had failed then yet again.
As much as the disapproval of the song is justified, our anger as a nation needs not be selective. There is an even a greater need for people to voice their disapproval of a government that speaks about fighting corruption but only in word only and fails to walk the talk. This hypocrisy has become the legacy of Malawian governments to date, and the Malawi Corruption Account continues to be renewed every five years at the ballot box.
It reminds me of an old local song that brothers used to sing in Lilongwe:
Akulu a mpingo ndiye amanena mowa osamamwa…
Iwo ndiwo atenga kachipanda ayika kuchipinda
Mowa osamamwa… Ziri pachulu!
[It is the church elders that keep preaching
Against drinking alcohol;
Yet the whole time they hide a bottle
In their secret room
But it shall all be exposed…]