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Legalising illegality

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During the time of Dr Bakili Muluzi, a cabinet minister, Ziliro Chibambo, confessed a bitter political truth when he said that “we are all corrupt only that others have not been caught.”

Come 2013, the then president Joyce Banda said something which ran counter to the law she swore to protect beneficiaries of corruptly obtained money. Banda said in matters of plunder of state resources known as Cashgate, the person who deserved to be grilled was the one who actually stole the money and not someone who the thief shared the money with.

As expected, both Chibambo and Banda were roundly condemned. Banda’s reasoning was off-tangent because the laws governing criminal procedure and evidence stipulate that even a person who is found in possession of property suspected to have been stolen must explain his possession. So, there is nothing like a passive beneficiary of a criminal activity.

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I went down memory lane on these two sentiments based on what transpired in Parliament this week. This paper revealed that government was doling out K40 million each to 86 members of Parliament (MPs), especially those who voted against the Electoral Reforms Bills. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was not comfortable with the reforms. It courted legislators from the People’s Party (PP) and from its working partner the United Democratic Front (UDF) to bolster DPP chances of defeating the bills.

Vocal PP MPs were in the forefront justifying why the bills were defeated. Actually, the DPP played its cards well because it left the task of clearing the mess, in the aftermath of the failed bids, to the opposition backbenchers.

A number of PP MPs had to be summoned by their constituents to explain their strange behaviour.

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The K40 million windfall was meant to be a thank you to those opposition MPs who played ball.

The opposition MPs started on a good note, taking to task Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe to explain the source of this largesse. They also pressed for an explanation on how government selected the beneficiaries.

But instead of continuing with their search for the truth, the MPs compromised and assured Gondwe and his counterpart at Local Government, Kondwani Nankhumwa a good reprieve if the two considered distributing the money to all 193 MPs.

Just to paint a picture, the 193 MPs include the Speaker and his deputies plus the Leader of Opposition in Parliament.

This begs the question: Were the MPs tough on Gondwe and Nankhumwa based on ethical considerations or just because they were bitter that they had been excluded from the jamboree? Just as it happened with the backlash of the failed Electoral Reforms Bill, the DPP stands aside and let the opposition MPs do the bidding for them. The government side, which was caught with its dirty fingers in the cookie jar, can afford a good night rest. The watchdogs have been tamed into lapdogs.

Perhaps what the opposition MPs are forgetting is that in whatever is happening, the DPP is dictating the rhythm of the race to 2019.

The opposition MPs failed to come out clearly when the DPP alleged that all opposition legislators were uncomfortable with the Electoral Reforms Bills.

The opposition has also been mum on very crucial issues such as the Salima-Lilongwe Water Project.

Yes, the water project is important but we have seen people being punished for helping to fasten the wheels for a common good. The same applies to the current loot that the MPs have agreed to share.

It would have been criminal on the part of Gondwe to spend that huge amount without the approval of Parliament.

Ironically, the greedy MPs want to partake in the loot whose source remains a mystery. Is it a question of money being welcome even if it comes in a dirty pouch?

The opposition MPs would have scored a political point had they suggested that the money be channeled towards health or education. As we speak, the Higher Education Student Loan Board is struggling to meet demand. Forget the fact that the board spent K17 million on printing loan forms.

We also have a queue of Malawians waiting indefinitely to have a turn to go for medical treatment abroad. Hundreds of other Malawians are dying in our referral hospitals because dialysis machines are not enough to cater for all of them.

It would have been very commendable if the opposition MPs stuck to their guns, regularize the funding but redirect it to more meaningful ventures.

As it stands, the opposition MPs have laundered the money that Gondwe was dishing out, effectively legalising the illegality.

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