Updated: Jan 21
Malawi’s hunger games are becoming bizarre. In an effort to quell a looming disaster, President Peter Mutharika’s government issued MK28 billion – out of the MoF’s budget of MK35.5 billion – to allow ADMARC’s importation of the country’s staple, maize. The hungry poor have never looked good on his curriculum vitae, and Mr. Mutharika has frequently resorted to his brother’s failed Farm Input Subsidy Program, a costly social support mechanism that has left politicians and businessmen happier than rumbling tummies. It is no dispute that hunger has been a high-profile political stinger ever since Bakili Muluzi introduced his Targeted Inputs Program in the early 90s. Food security, or insecurity, has been a prominent feature on every budget statement and debate since.
Today, Mr. Mutharika feigns ignorance of the genesis of this highly dubious affair that has befallen us in the manner of procurement of the staple from neighboring Zambia. The one thing his DPP champions as its promise to the people has Mr. Mutharika now fixated on explaining the whereabouts of the maize his party’s symbol prides itself with.
Details aside. Every discerning Malawian, by now, knows some basic facts about the maize deals in Zambia. Most important, perhaps, is that resources were set aside to purchase grain from the fattened granaries across the border and that contracts followed with the swiftness the hunger situation demanded. Everything else that followed has been, in our view, a conscientious commitment to confusion.
Based on the foregoing, from the moment Honorable Goodle Gondwe announced a 2016/17 budget just shy of MK1.2 billion, it makes sense to believe that an expenditure of MK28 billion, or 2.4% of the budget, would excite alerts at every level of leadership in the country. It is mind-boggling that the political elite, from the highest office, has instead opted to stand high on a platform of pretense, randomly selecting unfortunate souls in lower ranks to face the music. The master of such drama happens to be the man entrusted with ensuring all Malawians go to sleep on a full stomach. Even when fingers have pointed towards him, he has assured us he has no intentions of aiming for any other career soon.
The result of the aimless finger-pointing means that soon, the misappropriation of resources to take care of Malawi’s growing vulnerable population will be nobody’s problem. Answers will be relegated to commissions of inquiry, probes by the entitled few, while slowly dispersing the details into oblivion as precious time passes by. The reverent commissioners and responsible parliamentary committees engaged in grilling the involved will leave with sitting allowances and perks to the extent that a duty to people and country allows for. The hungry, well…they will become hungrier.
The obvious deductive reasoning from the basic facts point to Mr. Mutharika’s competencies vis-à-vis running affairs in the country. Based on all the clatter he and his cronies have made on how they are developing the country, a song his departed brother sang so well too, this was the litmus that would tell on the sort of institutions he is re-building, ADMARC being one. For claiming ignorance of MK28 billion of taxpayers’ money, it must be lucid that Mr. Mutharika’s institutions at Capital Hill laugh in the face of the public sector reforms that his government has been hypnotizing development partners with, luring them into believing progress is on its way.
If any entitlement to righteousness is to be won, the one faction in this saga that loses credibility, in part, for aiding the continuity of the mediocrity Mr. Mutharika’s government displays, is the opposition. Severally, Malawi’s opposition is reactionary, just as it is busy barking about the #Maizegate at the moment. As we expressly underscore above, there is no way political leadership in Malawi would have been blind to ADMARC’s intention to spend taxpayer’s resources of the magnitude herein without the knowledge of parliamentarians. Their knowledge of the transactions, and perhaps backstage involvement in the deals, means they are responsible for the mess as much as the government. If their most favorable option also resembles “it wasn’t me!” then Malawi needs to seriously revert to the polls to elect representatives who are ready to keep an eye open every time MK28 billion decides to fly out of our pockets to some inexistent purpose.
Our argument is not to inhibit clarity on the details of the inquiries taking place. Our simplicity is to help us keep sight of the bigger picture. We call for the return to objective reasoning around the most important assets the country has at its disposal so that the hungry get fed, but also that the right people are held fully accountable. This is not the first time Honorable George Chaponda is going to whine about personal vendettas, although he certainly believes Malawi specifically ordered them for him, nor does it appear to be his last. But, where things have tipped under his nose, it is absurd that he should appear before the President in awe of the absurdity of Malawi’s corruption, like the rest of us.
This is the reasoning we hope our civil society would follow. They need to build the case, with the evidence they gather, to make sure the public is made aware of the extensive damage the case makes on the people and economy. They need to keep an eye if Mr. Chaponda aims to travel on a pre-issued visa to hide some of the stash he is suspected to have looted from the grains we are purchasing, and keep him on the ground in full conformity of the laws working on him. As a man under investigation should.
In the face of imminent hand cuffs, all will plead not guilty. Yet, the guilty are parading everywhere with us.