The Honeymoon Ends – Months of appeasement end in donor pullout for Malawi


Harare – When Malawi’s President Joyce Banda came into office two years ago, she looked set for a fairytale tenure. After the economic slump precipitated by the pull-out of donors in the last days of the Bingu wa Mutharika Presidency, her seemingly cosy relationship with the West was touted as her biggest weapon.

She did not do herself any harm by cutting government down on profligacy. But now, President Banda’s honeymoon appears well and truly over.

Western donors are withholding budgetary support, which accounts for more than 40 percent of her government’s spending. As with Former President Mutharika, President Banda is starting to feel the strains of over-reliance on aid.

Perhaps sensing this, President Banda – the SADC chairperson – has been gravitating closer to her regional colleagues, unlike in the early days of her Presidency when she not only appeared to be aloof, but was actively encouraged by some sections of the media to steer clear of the bloc.

Former President Mutharika, though he had always been close to SADC, moved even closer to the bloc as his stand-off with the West deepened and he tried to institute homegrown solutions to funding Malawi’s budget from domestic and regional sources.

While Former President Mutharika’s fallout with the West stemmed from his refusal to accept condescending treatment, in particular from the United Kingdom, President Banda’s precipitous relationship with donors stems from allegations of failing to clamp down on widespread graft. Her very public crackdown on corruption appears to have had little impact.

Last month, two officials were arrested for allegedly embezzling US$15 million from public coffers in what has been dubbed “cashgate”.

In all, US$50 million has reportedly vanished from state coffers in two months and in response, President Banda has fired the entire cabinet.

This has not been enough to appease donors.

Norway suspended budgetary aid while a donor grouping of Europe and the World Bank said it would “not be able to resume support through government systems until we have a clear assurance, independently verified, that our resources are all being used for their intended purpose”.

The group had pledged US$150 million to Malawi this year. The cash crunch has seen the government restricting local and international travel by all officials, including the President herself. Local opposition is slowly building around President Banda, and there have even been threats to her life.

The same civil society that propelled her to the limelight is now saying if decisive action is not taken against corrupt officials, they will organise a march on State House to demand her resignation.

Chairperson of the Council for NGOs (Congoma), Voice Mhone, was quoted saying they would encourage everyone to wear black every Monday to mourn the looting of the public purse.

“Black Monday” was billed to start on November 18. They want to stage “periodic peaceful mass protests”, go-slows and work stoppages and other forms of protest to pressure President Banda.

 * Licence to Loot

President Banda’s government must contend with a report titled “License to Loot”.

Compiled by Allan Ntata, a London-based Malawian barrister and Legal Advisor to Former President Mutharika, the report has been submitted to European capitals.

According to Ntata, President Banda is the looter-in-chief.

He writes, “In spite of numerous international accolades and goodwill, systematic and systemic corruption has plagued President Joyce Banda’s leadership of Malawi, sanctioned by the President herself, and proliferating into all levels of her administration.”

He claims that “the Malawi government’s financial management system is being used by dishonest politicians and businessmen to shroud in secrecy transactions aimed at looting and pillaging a nation’s wealth while the president is obsessed only with international recognition and is uninterested in domestic leadership, to the great disadvantage of ordinary citizens”.

“President Joyce Banda of Malawi continues to receive such generously flattering international accolades as ‘one of Africa’s great thinkers’ and continues to be fiercely supported and promoted by the horde of so-called international ‘femocrats’.

“Yet the house that Joyce built is crumbling and taking innocent Malawians down with it. 

Away from the international stage, however, President Banda is facing sustained calls to resign amidst allegations of corruption that have implicated all of her cabinet, and her two sons who serve as her closest advisors.”

Some of his allegations include how a principal accountant in President Banda's office, Frank Mwanza, authorised the payment of US$3m to a ghost firm.

In another allegation, a junior officer, who earns US$100 a month, was found with US$25 000 cash at his house during a police raid Since the allegations surfaced, 14 public officials have been arrested.

In September, nine senior police officers were jailed for 14 years each for fraud involving US$164 000. The allegations are plentiful and well-detailed in Ntata’s 67–page report. The Malawi government was still to respond to the report at the time of writing.

November 2013
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