Talking Blues: Malawi President Chakwera angling for the “Prince of Thieves” dishonour

After last week’s discourse re: “Indecisiveness as the hallmark of President Lazarus Chakwera’s leadership this far”, it was a pleasant surprise for many to see Chakwera in action.

Whether the action was just or unjust, legally tenable or untenable or whatever, Chakwera took action.

As I had argued last week, it is only by trying and /or doing – let’s call it experimenting, that lessons are learnt. Remember that had Thomas Edison not tried and at first, failed, he would never have invented the light bulb.

I, therefore, won’t scapegoat Chakwera for the controversy that has followed his rescinding Linda Kunje’s and Jean Mathanga’s appointments as commissioners of the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec).

Were due process and natural justice availed to them?

Probably not.

Does the government owe them for services delivered this far?

I do not care.

Has Chakwera opened the dreaded Pandora’s Box as suggested by some quarters?

It does not matter.

The fact is: Peter Mutharika did not act in good faith when appointing the two in total disregard of the recommendations from the Parliamentary Public Appointments Committee following their being adjudged incompetent by the Supreme Court of Appeal on 8th May 2020 in MSCA [Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal] Constitutional Appeal No. 1 of 2020.

Mutharika’s intransigence needed correcting and if this could only happen at a cost, so be it.

At the end of the day, I have all the faith that our Courts our Pride will adjudicate on this matter when it is litigated, and we will move on.

The important take-home is that Chakwera now knows that action does not kill. On the contrary, it makes one stronger for other fights.

Let us hope he will keep it up.

Having said that, for three reasons, I would not put any money on Chakwera continuing with actions.

First, there is Chakwera’s obsession with hearing himself deliver speeches at the expense of taking real action.

Then there is the small matter of the promised but now overdue Cabinet reshuffle, which he wants us to forget about.

Third, to make an already complex situation worse, we now have an Investigative Report on the Usage and Accountability of the K6.2 billion Covid-19 Disbursement released by the National Audit Office (NAO).

This report, plus annexes, is 141 pages long. I, therefore, cannot reproduce it in full.

Nevertheless, we can focus on the juiciest bits, the big names therein and the ministries to figure out who qualifies or not to serve in Chakwera’s Cabinet.

Overall Covid-19 leadership: the auditors observed a conspicuous lack of leadership and unsatisfactory interest by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 in enforcing financial prudence.

In plain language, the so-called Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 didn’t care how the funds were being used and abused.

Digging further, the auditors noted that task force leaders were in fact at the forefront of scamming taxpayers and the rest were just following the taskforce‘s leadership.

For instance, hidden in payment for conference packages to Umodzi Park was cash for “professional” allowances for the task force members.

Verbatim:

“However, the payment included professional allowances, fuel and airtime for Presidential Task Force and allowances to support staff amounting to K8 662 019.”

At the mother line ministry, i.e. the Ministry of Health (MoH), the auditors observed a combination of a free for all and ping-pong.

Let me start with the ping-pong. Procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) took 170 days to execute due to protracted ping-pong between Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) and MoH.

The reason? Lack of leadership.

Again, payments to health workers were based on two circulars: one issued by then MoH chief of health services Charles Mwansambo in April 2020 and another one by Bestone Chisamile for Secretary for Health in September 2020.

As a result of the confusion, health workers at isolation centres received  “double”.

Come to the Ministry of Labour, Covid-19 was not an emergency at all. Of higher priority were allowances for international travel, which saw the Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo and Labour Commissioner H.K.K Nyangulu “borrow” K614 000 and K829 000, respectively accompanying President Chakwera to South Africa.

At the Ministry of Information, the preferred mode of Covid-19 funds syphoning was fuel abuse.

Fuel valued in millions, requisitioned by the former and current Directors of Information Messrs Mzati Nkolokosa and Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, respectively, vaporised into thin air.

Poof! Just like that.

Not to be outdone, Dodma, in the Office of President and Cabinet, majored in procurement malpractices.

A fumigation services contract worth K97.2 million for 26 buildings located at Capital Hill, City Centre and Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe was awarded to Pest Chem 1B without any open competitive tender process.

The 97 million Kwacha questions:

  • Why was this company hired and paid without due regard to procurement policies and laws?
  • At whose behest?

In the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services to be specific, there was also an irregular procurement of PPE valued at K5.7 million, which was paid to a company identified as Starmile General Suppliers.

Auditors questioned how Starmile, which was not a genuine bidder, got the contract.

Among other things, this raises questions as to who the beneficial owner of this company is.

As I have intimated above, these few instances are just the tip of the iceberg.

In the final analysis, on Chakwera’s watch, we have lost at least 1 100 people to Covid. Had funds been spent prudently and leadership provided at all levels, these Malawians would still be with us.

What are Chakwera’s options?

First of all, rhetoric will not improve anything. In fact, we already have had a mite too much of pointless poetry and prose.

If talk, talk and talk won’t cut it, what will?

Action. Analysis. Adjustment.

Action akin to the one Chakwera has belatedly taken on the MEC Commissioners. Learning from this experience. Tweaking as necessary. Then repeating, taking the lessons into account, to clear the Civil Service of all old and new rubbles.

The beauty of audit report-based action is that the risk of the Attorney General going for the Secretary to the President and Cabinet’s exposed neck is extremely low.

With the long overdue Cabinet reshuffle, the icing on the cake is that Chakwera has the “prerogative” to hire and /or fire.

Is inaction an alternative? What could possibly go wrong if Chakwera insists on keeping the wheat and the chaff together?

In theory, inaction is an option; however it is very risky.

One risk is that Peter Mutharika would be acting entirely within his rights if he demanded that Chakwera take over the unflattering crown of the Prince of Thieves once donned by Mutharika.

In my opinion, this is a horrendous prospect.

But then, who am I to speak for Chakwera or to speculate on his “royal” aspirations? If he wants the crown of shame, let him have it.

After all, it is his prerogative.

 

 

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