Some months ago, Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe revealed that 20 members of Parliament (MPs) were suspected to have dipped their long and dirty fingers in jars containing Constituency Development Fund (CDF) pieces of silver.
CDF and the Local Development Fund (LDF) were set up to accelerate development projects in districts and constituencies.
There are proper laid down procedures whereby a full council meeting at the district level has to discuss and agree on which projects to fund through the LDF or District
Development Fund (DDF).
As regards, CDF, there are local committees that have the mandate to decide which projects to fund. These committees include the village development committee, the area development committee and the constituency development committee.
Under the decentralization system that Malawi embarked on some 20 years ago,
councillors are empowered to work with traditional leaders and community members to manage funds for local development. In this setup, the mandate of an MP is to make laws at Parliament.
Unfortunately, national laws are far removed from the local communities. The impact of legislation is remote and only relevant in some particular circumstances. In desperate attempt to remain connected to the communities, MPs hijack the responsibility of constructing school blocks, sinking boreholes and paving feeder roads in the villages.
That is what members of the community find tangible at grass root level.
But in the process of forcing their way into the LDF, MPs want to own the projects and be seen as benefactors. They begin to buy building materials and deliver them to the community on pretext that the communities have no capacity to get good material and that the MP would use his vehicle to carry the items.
That is where trouble begins. The MPs threaten secretariat staff at the district commissioner’s office to collect the funds. They branch off to a dubious hardware shop, which may be owned by the MPs themselves, and pass by a local stream to buy sand and bricks.
The chiefs and their subjects are only mere recipients of the materials. This lack of transparency becomes a fertile ground for corruption.
Surprisingly, since Gondwe disclosed that 20 MPs were fingered in the thefts, the government has not brought anyone to book. The lack of action on the part of the government cannot be a coincidence. The ruling party might be using these cases as a bait to keep the MPs on a short leash.
We all saw how configurations kept on changing in Parliament during the debate on electoral law reform bills. Some vocal MPs suddenly became absent while others abstained from the voting process.
The second reason for government’s inactivity could be that some MPs from the ruling party are caught in the cobweb of this corruption.
If the cases are vigorously pursued, the party may lose the vital numbers in the house.
So in such circumstances, the only wise thing to do is to do nothing.
This is the reason why civil society organisations (CSOs) must rise to the occasion. CSOs must galvanise the people to demand accountability from their MPs. Budget tracking programmes that come in different shapes and sizes, such as the kalondolondo programme, must be supported by all stakeholders.
Waiting for the government to lead in the probe and prosecution is but chasing after the wind.
Just a few weeks ago, Mzimba Hora MP, Christopher Mzomera Ngwira, was nicked on suspicion that he had helped himself with funds from the LDF.
Ngwira is accused of failing to account for funds amounting to slightly over K600,000. He allegedly refunded part of the money under duress.
Since the case is in a court of law, this column has no intention to be sub judice through the court of public opinion. But citing the case, which is in public domain, helps to illuminate the apparent dark corners that give the LDF a bad name.
For the sake of fairness, there is need to cast the net wider across all constituencies and take out the bad apples. The money belongs to all Malawians and not just a few people who have connections. There is need to book all those thieving MPs if the country is to move forward.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues