Are we still a country?
At a time we seem to have quelled our surging appetite for protest marches and all, which became an in-thing at the height of the political impasse being experienced in the country, another problem, which most would consider much worse, has emanated from within the public service and that is the deeply rooted and gross corruption that, if left unchecked, threaten the very existence of this country we call Malawi.
Not long ago, we were all grinning from ear to ear following revelations by the Ministry of Lands and Housing and Urban Development that they had managed to uncover a racket that was carrying out activities as ‘parallel’ Lands Ministry. Now, if you thought these were small town boys interested in making some little ‘change’ you better think again. We were told the ‘parallel’ lands Ministry, whose kingpins remain obscured from public limelight, ran as a well-orchestrated entity such that they could manage to convince and dupe bwanas from the affluent suburbs in the capital city into doing business with them; some of them were sold residential plots in locations such as Area 47 after parting with millions of kwacha, only to discover later on that they had been sold a fast one.
So you can imagine the sort of relief that accompanied the announcement that these crooks had been tracked down and would soon be answering for their sins but, Lo and behold! What we heard or saw was just a tip of the iceberg. As admitted by the principal secretary in the Lands Ministry Joseph Mwandidya, it was not just the ‘parallel’ Lands Ministry that posed a major challenge. He told members of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament that there is not just corruption but also abuse of office at the authentic Lands Ministry.
Now, ladies and gentlemen (or is it my lady and my lords?) the moment you hear a controlling officer such as the whole PS come out with a voice of despair, just know that we are doomed. The damning admission by Mwandidya that there is rot of magnanimous proportions at the Lands Ministry means that, as the controller, he has reached his wits end. Let us not pretend here; at one point when Jean Kalirani was still Cabinet minister and presided over the same ministry, officials at the ministry’s Lilongwe office bitterly complained of how ‘blue-eyed’ boys, at the beckon of politicians in government, were pestering them to facilitate transactions to do with sale of land or indeed plots and they made it clear that these people made their work and life uncomfortable. Something drastic needs to be done otherwise, we will wake up one day and discover that the vast pieces of land that we once laid claim over have been dubiously sold to foreign nationals or Malawians of other origins who have at their disposal huge sums of money.
Perhaps the most excruciating bit came from revelation by legislator Nancy Tembo that Livimbo School (if you were born and bred in Lilongwe like me, you would remember stories about this iconic school we used to hear as children); yes, that government, owned and run education facility in Area 2, has now been sold to Malawians of Asian origin under our very noses. Whether the purported sale was legitimate or at the hands of the ‘parallel’ Lands Ministry, it is simply unthinkable and unacceptable that government, which just last month unveiled a secondary school building project bankrolled by the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid), can afford the luxury of getting rid of some of its existing public schools when there are not even enough of them to go around. We seriously need some intervention on this issue at Lands and if President Peter Mutharika is really committed to ending corruption once and for all as he has repeatedly claimed on public podium, then here is a test that he need not fail. By now, I am hoping adha Symon Vuwa Kaunda is already fidgeting in his seat because if he does not spark and get rid of the mess at his ministry, it will continue soiling the reputation of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)- led administration.
Quite frankly, I, for one, am quite tired of hearing bad stories emanating from this country we once proudly called home but now, just the mere mention of the name Malawi leaves a bitter taste. If it is not corruption or nepotism in government, then it is people at each other’s throat due to differences stemming from religious beliefs or better yet, a soldier caught up in a love triangle going berserk and spilling blood of his colleagues in the process. My bad, I am getting emotional, so I need to catch a breath but before I do that, here is one question each one of us need to answer: are we still a country?
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).