Government hides the truth

If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that's something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can't live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.
Noam Chomsky

Power is a drug on which the politicians are hooked. They buy it from the voters, using the voters' own money.
Peter Newman


The Mhlako Triumvirate

Thursday, February 10, 2011


As the drama unfolds in Egypt questions are being asked about the Mubarak family’s wealth. There is no consensus but what all reporters agree on is that it amounts to BILLIONS of dollars. By some estimates President Mubarak could be the richest man in the world. One may ask how an ex-army officer on a President’s salary and constitutionally disbarred from any business activity could amass even a modest fortune - and this in a country where the average income is less than $2 per day. One should also ask why no one asked that question while he was still a strong leader.
Of course, we know that the ageing Egyptian ruling military class, the survivors of three wars with Israel, have demanded reparation from their own people for the loss of their fallen comrades! Corruption is rife. Military enterprises and crony ‘capitalism’ have enriched a small group at the expense of the many.
Here in Malawi, our first multi-party era President Bakili Muluzi owned Jakumusi buses and Atupele Transport whose trucks were propped up on blocks never to move again. His only remaining business appeared to be that of sugar distribution and tobacco farming. Whilst he was not a poor man without property it was apparent that his businesses were not thriving. Yet, almost immediately after winning the Presidency, his businesses miraculously recovered to the extent that he could fund the operation of the UDF out of his back pocket and had untold millions of kwacha to splash around – even though much of it was in the form of fifty kwacha notes. In fact, he was so rich that he was able to fund from his own pockets things that should have been funded by a government whose resources were insufficient..
Then he built a splendid house at his home village, Kapoloma, and another on BCA Hill in Limbe. In other parts of the world, people who have proven themselves to be such successful businessmen have made a second fortune by writing ‘How-to-get-rich’ books. But he never shared the secrets of his success with the people, many of whom really needed a leg up in life.
When he started to build the Keza Complex on land that was supposedly reserved for public buildings he volunteered that he had borrowed the money from the bank.  I did my sums. Knowing how much it had been touted to cost; how much rent that the Malawi Revenue Authority was to pay, factoring in the interest repayments at rates that were very high at the time – I came to the conclusion that it could not pay for itself. Question – where was the money to come from to keep up with the repayments? And I asked that question on a radio programme. Of course, I did not get an answer.
When Bakili failed to become President for Life and fell foul of his hand-picked successor, Bingu wa Mutharika, he was finding it difficult to keep up with the repayments and the bank took action to secure their funds. The rest is history. He no longer owns the Keza complex. And to add insult to his injury, the Anti-Corruption Bureau has charged him with diverting K1.7 billion of funds intended for the State into his own personal bank accounts. The criminal case has yet to be heard.
We should not wait until our presidents have retired from office before we start to question. We must hold them to account for any signs of unusual wealth while they are in office and before they do too much damage.If they realise that the people are alert and prepared to make a noise they will be less tempted to misuse state funds and resources!
I do not know what our incumbent was worth before he became President but he certainly shows signs of wealth now that he never showed before. It is time that our investigative journalists began to ask some difficult questions about that apparent new-found wealth and the business acquisitions of those who appear to be close to him. Those businesses have apparently flourished at a rate beyond what may reasonably have been expected given the current state of our economy. And let us see the names of the Tendrepreneurs, a term applied in South Africa to a special class of businessman, individuals favoured for government business whose main qualification appears to be a close relationship to those in power.

Ohhhh, I forgot! Under our new laws the Minister may decide that it is not in the public interest to publish the journalists’ findings. Now is that not a strange coincidence?

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