They say that with great power comes great responsibility. In a democracy, the greatest power one can possess is that of the Presidency, unless of course it’s the United States of America – the land of the free and home of the brave – then it’s the Wall Street bankers. Quintessentially, the President is the vanguard of the social and economic development of the country: the provision of needs and wants of the citizenry.
The most basic and essential needs comprise food and water, adequate housing, quality health care and education system, and infrastructure such as roads. The wants are those goods and services not crucial for a person’s survival but that invariably improve the quality of life.
The President is entrusted with the responsibility of managing the economy optimally so that more revenue is collected through taxes – the main source of a country’s financial resources. Further, it is the duty of the President to ensure that the revenue so collected is dedicated solely to the provision of needs and wants of the citizenry.
In Malawi, taxes are collected through the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), banked with the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), and managed by the Ministry of Finance which consists of the Treasury Department, the Accountant General and the Internal Audit Office. Essentially, these agencies oversee the ‘public purse’ on behalf of the President: The agencies report to the President as the head of the Executive hence the President remains the ultimate authority at all times in the management of the ‘public purse’.
The year 2013 will go down in Malawian history as a watershed moment of ‘Shakespearean’ magnitude: Malawians were shocked to learn that billions of their hard earned kwachas had been systematically looted from the ‘public purse’ in the scandal that was coined ‘Cashgate’.
The sitting President at the time, Joyce Banda, expressed ignorance on this matter at first but gradually changed tune to acknowledge the reality that ‘Cashgate’ was unfolding to be. The former President – in a bid to quell adverse opinions – even went as far as congratulating the then Budget Director for gallantry trying to expose the ill that was ‘Cashgate’.
Well, we now all know the ‘congratulations’ were utterly misdirected – the esteemed Budget Director is in the same boat as those he was gallantry fighting to expose; it is left to the courts to vindicate him.
As the ‘Cashgate’ Scheme was laid bare the rumour-mill was awash with so many tales explaining what had happened. Notably, the common denominator was the narrative that money was being systematically looted to fund the President’s people’s Party (PP).
The President instituted investigations into ‘Cashgate’ as international donors piled up the pressure. The investigations have culminated into prosecutions – and some convictions – of persons found to have been involved. Some of these persons have implicated the former President directly. While this is not in itself an indicator of the Former President’s involvement, it surely begs the question: What would be the motive for the prosecuted persons to implicate her directly? Political leverage, maybe!Paja ndale za ku Malawi.
However, if the narrative that ‘Cashgate’ was geared to fund PP activities is to be believed – there are no plausible reasons not to since the narrative as to how money was schemed out of the public purse is believed anyway – then the involvement of the former President is a foregone conclusion. As the leader of PP she knew of the sources of funding, whether from ‘Cashgate’ or donors or even ‘well-wishers’. There is absolutely no way she would not have known about it.
Further, it is inconceivable that the former President being the head of the Executive had no knowledge of ‘Cashgate’ taking place. The amounts involved are too shocking – we are talking of billions of kwachas – there is absolutely no way she could not have known such a drain from the ‘public purse’.
Malawi has been perennially cash-strapped: Billions of kwachas cannot just disappear in Malawi without the highest authority noticing. With the vignette of the narrative that the money may have been meant for PP funding, it is more plausible that the President knew where the drainage was.
Furthermore, the flouting of strictures and fail-safes within the agencies entrusted with managing the ‘public purse’ infer the existence of blessings of a very high authority. For instance, an accounts clerk cannot make a multi-million Kwacha payment without Treasury first of all crediting the funds into the clerk’s Ministry’s IFMIS account.
Is it all a game of smoke and mirrors?
Arm of law
Once the vouchers have been written they must be approved and signed by supervising officers and when being presented at the Accountant General’s Office the vouchers must have proper supporting documents justifying the reason for such a large payment. Cheques worth hundreds millions of Kwachas require the signatures of the Accountant General and the Secretary to the Treasury.
Hundreds of millions of Kwachas which are not in the Ministry’s approved budget cannot be released unless the Budget Director is instructed by the Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury and it is common knowledge that these two cannot authorize the release of off budget funds without consulting the President first.
The only plausible inference, therefore, is that the President gave her blessing and was fully aware of what was going on and had acquiesced in it. Ironically, she even made the comment that ‘you are not guilty of any crime if someone shares you stolen money’.
Was this a tacit admission?
Another notable point is how quickly PP’s financial fortunes transformed once they had taken over the reins of power in 2012 with no legitimate business venture. The former President imported a large fleet of party vehicles at once not long after ascending to the highest office in the land, not to mention the numerous ‘gifts’ that PP received from its members and ‘well-wishers’ (remember ‘Cashgate’ convict Oswald Lutepo’s donation of a fleet of brand new cars?).
Various lavish party functions were held, cows were bought and distributed at will, houses were built, and the ironic thing was that PP claimed these projects were not government initiatives but rather the party’s and that of the Joyce Banda Foundation. Where was all this money coming from?
Lastly, the former President’s self-imposed exile is not helping matters. Although it is not conclusively indicative of personal guilt, you see, it is an inescapable fact that it is natural for the guilty to be afraid. In fact, it is only the guilty that can be afraid.
In light of the circumstances above, the witch-hunting quip might not pass as valid anymore: this is probably the source of Joyce Banda’s discomfort. There is no other plausible interpretation of her self-imposed exile rather than as a sign of fear (read: guilt).
From this vantage point, the factual premises seem to indisputably suggest that former President Joyce Banda’s hands are not as clean as she continuously protests: Are the incessant protestations merely part of a self-serving game of smoke and mirrors in a bid to evade the long arm of the law?
Is it all a game of smoke and mirrors?