Talking Blues: Chakwera’s high tolerance for corruption is killing us


Let’s do something different this week. Instead of our usual harangue, I will start with a little role-play.

Let’s say you have a business. It involves importing certain products, repackaging and branding and selling them locally. Through this business, you provide for your family.

In the good old days, you were exporting produce to earn forex with which to finance your imports. These days, however, the export side of your business is non-existent.

Since you still need forex, you approached a foreign bank which avails you credit at an agreed interest rate. Hence, even though you aren’t exporting, the foreign bank enables you to continue trading but with interest.

Now, an old acquaintance in diaspora learns about your woes and, being well endowed, reaches out and assists you through a grant and access to foreign exchange financing for your imports. This arrangement offers a lower interest rate than charged by the foreign bank, plus it allows for repayment in local currency.

Things look bright again, and you begin thriving. Good life returns. Soon enough, you decide that your wife is not enough; you must have an MG2 to manifest your status as a “big man wamkulu”.

Again, whereas you were home by 6pm every day, it is after midnight when you return home. When the MG1 asks, your response is always acerbic. With no success, your diaspora benefactor reaches out to pump sense into you.

He is therefore forced to freeze the foreign exchange financing arrangement. He realizes, however, that your wife and kids will also suffer. Consequently, he freezes the arrangement but directly caters to the MG1 and children’s needs. Not the most ideal setup, but this spares MG1 and kids.

What follows next? Before we address this question, let’s digress.
As per The Daily Times of Friday, our development partners will not be resuming Direct Budget Support for health programmes any time soon.

The reasons cited are rampant fraud and corruption incidences.
Chairperson for the Parliamentary Health Committee, Dr Mathews Ngwale, said development partners indicated that they still lacked confidence in the government due to, among other reasons, failure to deal with corruption.

According to Dr Ngwale, recent incidents, e.g. the alleged misappropriation of K6.2 billion meant for Covid response, have irreparably dented Malawi’s image.

“We have been scandalous over the past few years. When Covid came, there was money which had not been accounted for. Cabinet ministers were mentioned, and there was a change of government, but the same issues persist,” Ngwale said.

The more astute have correlated the two role-play above to this development as below:

• The man who lost a benefactor’s support because of profligacy is the Malawi Government.
• Cashgate, Covidgate, and the ongoing Sattar mess can be paralleled to acquiring and prioritizing an MG2 at the expense of the bona fide family.
• The forex arrangement can be equated to Direct Budget Support, which helps compensate for our ever-dwindling forex caused by tobacco’s obsolescence and failure to diversify our export base.
All this is not new.

Direct budget support first deserted us when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) went rogue in 2010/12. Direct budget support briefly returned when caretaker president Joyce Banda took over in 2012, only for cashgate to explode and off went the direct budget support back to the northern hemisphere.

On 4 May 2017, the gods – in the name of the World Bank Board of Executive Directors – smiled at us again and approved a USD80 million credit to the Malawi Government for general budget support.

This was the first budget support financing approved by the World Bank for Malawi since Cashgate. It was intended “to improve incentives for private sector participation in agricultural markets and strengthen fiscal management through more effective expenditure controls and greater transparency”.

“The Malawi Government is committed to ‘breaking the cycle’ of vulnerability in Malawi, by making the necessary reforms that will lead to a more resilient and private sector-oriented agricultural sector, and by rebuilding integrity in our public financial management systems,” this was Goodall Gondwe, the then Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development.

“We are grateful to the World Bank’s vote of confidence in these efforts, demonstrated by the approval of budget support, but we also recognize that there is a still a long way to go,” the Minister added.

Five years later, a new government, and a brand-new president elected on a promise to end corruption later, we are still a long way.

In fact, we have regressed.

Hence the Health Donor Group taking a stand that our worsening woes notwithstanding, they will not resume direct budget support for something as crucial as health; of which Thomas Carlyle said: he who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.

To put things in context, let me share an anecdote. Years ago, my father was visiting us in town. Lunchtime came, and my daughter was summoned from wherever she was playing to join him for lunch, as is our tradition.

Now, this daughter of mine was a handful. She could eat while chattering nonstop and encouraged by an indulging grandpa; she was particularly boisterous that day. After finishing her meal, she exclaimed:

“Wasn’t this meal tasty!” My dad – not missing a bit – explained to her that it wasn’t the meal that was tasty. It was the fact that she was enjoying excellent health because that same “tasty” meal eaten when sick would taste like sawdust.

The point I want to make is that even if President Lazarus Chakwera had somehow fulfilled the unfulfilled three-meal-a-day promise, each of those fictional three meals would taste sour without good health.

With good health, we can have hope; and if we can have a reason to hope, we will – in the end – attain our needs. Health, good health, is fundamental.

This is why I find President Chakwera’s gross failure in leading us in the war to end corruption to requalify for, among other things, the Health Direct Budget Support is not only irresponsible but borders on criminal negligence.

Look here, you and I know the problem. Pres Chakwera knows the problem. You and I know the solution. Likewise, Pres Chakwera knows the answer.

What is the point of having an incorruptible ACB Czarina only to let loose rabid dogs to dog her left, right and centre whenever she tries to grab the bull by the horns?
What is the point?

If this is not the lack of high-level support she bemoans, what is?
Given the lack of demonstrable support for the ACB, can anyone fault me for saying it is President Chakwera’s high tolerance for corruption that is killing us?

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