Talking Blues: It looked easy when the damn horse did it

Lest I be ranked with Nero who was busy fiddling when Rome was burning, I will go straight to the point.

To set the context, a factual timeline is necessary:

  • 31 Dec 2019: China reported the emergence of a new virus.
  • 20 Jan 2020: WHO declared Covid19 a global pandemic.
  • 20 Mar 2020: A State of Disaster was declared.
  • 1 Apr 2020: Malawi recorded its first Covid-19 case.
  • 1 May 2020: Reports – supported by a video – that Covid19 funds were being abused emerged and caught the Ombudsman’s eye.
  • 6 May 2020: Then-President Peter Mutharika replaced the Special Cabinet Committee on Coronavirus with a multi-stakeholder Presidential Taskforce to fight Covid-19. Funds were mobilized and deployed.
  • 23 Jun 2020: Fresh Presidential Elections were conducted.
  • 6 Jul 2020: President Lazarus Chakwera ascended to the presidency on a platform of Servant leadership, Uniting Malawi, Prospering together, Ending corruption and Rule of law (Chakwera Super Hi5).
  • 27 Nov 2020: Martha Chizuma, the Ombudsman, released a report aptly titled “Misplaced priorities”.

The report details a litany of malpractices and maladministration and offers directives which, from what we have seen lately, fell on deaf ears.

Had the Ombudsman’s directives had been heeded and action taken, “CovidGate” would not have happened.

More poignantly, the Ombudsman’s report urges the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to “comprehensively review the government allowances policies by making them more realistic, considerate to country’s economy and clearer to avoid abuses”.

This plea follows the finding that out of the MK75,601,589,262.43 (equivalent to USD102,580,175.39) almost 80% was used on allowances.

Thousands of Malawians have since been infected and hundreds have died due to lack of equipment or oxygen which the standard-setting Onjezani Kenani / Thandie Hara Initiative has managed to buy with a fraction of the funds squandered in allowances.

Fast forward to 17 January 2021, incumbent President Lazarus Chakwera, having declared a state of national disaster a few days before, addressed the nation to report the actions “taken with his Covid-19 Taskforce to curb the pandemic”.

Switching on the full charm of his oratory skills, Chakwera rattled a series of expenditure amounts purportedly invested in fighting the pandemic.

This Chakwera MK6.2 billion Covid19 Financial Report has since been totally discredited.

Belatedly realizing he had peddled cooked figures, Chakwera did an about-face and informed Malawians that some controlling officers and heads of Covid clusters were yet to submit expenditure reports for the very MK6.2 billion Covid package he had already reported on.

“This is completely unacceptable. Therefore, I have summoned all controlling officers and heads of clusters to meet my [Presidential] Taskforce [on Covid] in 48 hours and account for how they used that money.

“Make no mistake: Any cluster that either fails to account for the money it received or is found to have abused their funds is a cluster in which heads will roll,” Chakwera said.

48 hours came and went. Not a single head has rolled, unless Chakwera meant his own rolling in flabbergasted “vexation”.

Otherwise, not a single head has rolled.

To prove Chakwera’s talk empty, Kondwani Nankhumwa, the Leader of Opposition is unimpressed and has since demanded a forensic audit to assess the damage.

As if to rub more dirt on Chakwera’s self-soiled halo, Nankhumwa – akin to the proverbial pot calling the kettle black – has threatened to quit the task force if the National Audit Office fails to conduct a comprehensive forensic audit of DODMA and all clusters.

The questions on every Malawian’s mind are:

  1. How did we get here?
  2. Of this mess, how much is attributable personally to Chakwera; how much is attributable to the rubble he inherited and how much is attributable to his own garbage?
  3. How the hell did the high-sounding principles espoused in Chakwera Hi5 sour to mirror the Mutharika era practice of prioritizing allowances at the expense of preventing deaths?
  4. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

Before I answer these questions, let me tell you something. You have all heard about the extortionate salaries that the former Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) governor and directors were drawing.

You are also probably aware that the new RBM leadership has agreed to re-align the salaries in line with our economy.

Further, you may have heard that all directors, except one, have accepted the re-aligned salary grades and rates.

Now, the dissenting director’s lawyer challenged the RBM. The letter, once received by the RBM, was relayed to OPC.

It sat in the SPC’s desk until someone plucked it from there and redirected it to the Attorney General for rebuttal on the penultimate day.

Put differently, had someone not intervened, and the director’s dissent had gone unchallenged; that director would have remained on the old salary grade earning a higher salary than the Governor.

Where does that happen?

To mince no words, this particular buck literally stopped at the SPC’s desk, and for whatever reason, the gentleman failed to see the urgency of the matter. And lack of urgency in the OPC is the root of all the issues that Malawians are and have complained about with respect to Chakwera’s leadership.

I now go back to our questions; how did we get here?

We are here because President Chakwera is failing to see through the actions and inaction of the people he has delegated various responsibilities to. Hence his being made to look like a fool on 17 January 2021.

Our second question is: how much of this mess is attributable personally to Chakwera; or to the rubble he inherited and or to his own garbage?

The answer is that the buck stops at Chakwera’s door.

While the inherited rubble is partly responsible, it only exists because Chakwera tolerates it. The garbage Chakwera brought in is also not exempt. If anything, it is compounding the mess. Hence, Chakwera – as the principle – must own the mess.

Our third question is: what happened to the principles espoused in Chakwera Hi5?

Chakwera was willing to say or do anything for votes in his quest for power. As a result, he made promises he could not deliver.

It looked simple when Mutharika was bungling. Chakwera has since eaten his words and unilaterally withdrawn his promises.

“It looked easy when the damn horse did it,” said the distressed cow impaled on a fence it had tried to jump after watching a horse gracefully do that.

This is where we are. That is what we have. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Yes and No.

If Chakwera is courageous enough to radically reconstitute his administration from top to bottom, yes.

However, if Chakwera continues to believe he has the right people surrounding him; no light at all.

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