I am no cry baby: Joyce Banda

 

Malawian President Joyce Banda may be in huge trouble over the corruption scandal in her country, which has led to donors withholding aid, but she has declared she will not mourn the loss.

The corruption scandal, dubbed “cashgate” has seen millions of donor funds being diverted to personal use by government officials and a report by a prominent lawyer and former Presidential legal advisor puts Banda at the centre of the graft.

Britain, the International Monetary Fund, and Norway, among others have indicated that they will not fund graft-prone Malawi. The country’s budget is funded by donors up to 40 percent.

But Banda is putting a brave face and has even indicated Malawi may now have to look beyond donors.

“If you want me to be a cry baby I cannot, I am the leader of a country. If you want to give me something and then withdraw it, fine, I must respect your decision. I am not going to cry over it, no,” she told the UK Telegraph last week.

She added: “Yes, people in the UK will feel they are justified to withhold aid but I also think the UK will look at a new breed of leaders across the continent that have decided to fight it.”

It may be time to move on.

“The donors have not walked away for the first time. They come and go and come and go but we are here, we did not die,” she was quoted as saying.

“Sometimes when these things happen, you grow up, you find other ways. We must become creative, we are not going to be dependant forever. Perhaps this is a golden opportunity for us.

“If we do certain things right and if we are as determined as we are as I sit here, in 10 years' time the donors shall be our partners, not our providers, and we shall have weaned ourselves from budget support.”

 

Trouble

 

When Joyce Banda came into office a year ago, she looked set for a fairy-tale run in office.

She also had what looked like a perfect relationship with western donors (even to the discomfort of some quarters) and her cutting down on Government profligacy won her many admirers.

But trouble has set in.

In light of the withholding of donor support, a cash crunch has reportedly set in and recently government announced that it was restricting local and international travel for all government officials, including the president, following the withdrawal of budgetary support by donors.

Opposition is also slowly building around Banda with threats to her life even.

Two weeks ago civil society organisations announced a march to the State House to push for President Banda to resign and  pave for an interim government if the State  fails to conduct a fast-track trial on  suspects involved in the looting of public resources dubbed cash-gate scam.

A local newspaper said the CSOs wanted government to investigate and prosecute suspects involved in the looting between July and September 2013 by the end of November.

Chairperson of the Council for Non-governmental  Organisations (Congoma) Voice Mhone  was quoted as saying activists have proposed — in coordination with other 13 high-profile civil society organisations — calling a ‘Black Monday’ when Malawians will dress in black every Monday to symbolise the death of the public purse after being looted.

Activists are proposing holding periodic peaceful mass demonstrations across the country, conducting a go-slow or stay-away from work to facilitate and in support of citizen occupation of Capital Hill and ensure that the President is in office daily so that she is seen to be part of the solution to the crisis, and organising citizen occupation of State houses and conducting vigils and prayers for the country.

 

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Licence to loot 

 

London-based Malawian barrister and former Presidential legal advisor Allan Ntata has produced a damning report on the Malawian government’s corruption.

Titled “Licence to Loot: A report on the Cashgate Corruption Scandal in Malawi”, the report illustrates “how 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. He says the Malawi “Capital Hill Cash-Gate Scandal” (named after the seat of government), is the biggest fraud case ever recorded in the country.

Ntata says the corruption continues to be perpetrated by the executive, and that since its exposure, efforts to cover it up have been vigorous and relentless, the whole situation is a living organism that will continue to evolve until some intervention is done to arrest its development.

Some of the revelations include how a principal accountant in President Banda's office, Frank Mwanza, authorised the payment of MK1 billion (US$3 million) to a ghost firm. 

In another instance, a junior officer, who earns US$100 a month, was found with US$25 000 cash at his house during a raid by the police. Fourteen government employees have so far been arrested over the past two weeks for fraud in the scandal.

In September, nine senior police officers were jailed for 14 years each for fraud involving US$164 000. 

The charges are just too many in the voluminous 67–page document.

The report calls for investigation and addressing the growing culture of corruption.

 

High cost

 

Banda absolves herself of wrongdoing.

She says she has been brave enough to expose corruption.

 “It is a high cost for me just doing that, as a politician, six months before elections because for everyone I have arrested, I have lost a whole village of votes.” But she is ready to face the consequences.

 “I am prepared to get bruised because I just feel that this must stop and must stop now. We are finishing 50 years of independence this year, we are going into the next 50 years,” she said. 

“It is my wish that this rot remains in this millennium. That we go into the next one rejuvenated, clean and ready to prosper.” 

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