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No holds barred: Joyce Banda versus Peter Mutharika: A contest in vanity

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We saw statements and counterstatements last week: former President Joyce Banda accusing incumbent President, Peter Mutharika, of masterminding revelations by one of the convicted cashgate criminals to implicate Banda; and the government responding in kind against those accusations.

In case you missed the exchange, here is the summary of the story: When Banda was a stop-gap president between 2012 and 2014, K20 billion vanished on her watch, in what is now called the Cashgate Scandal.

So far there have been fifteen convictions in the affair, though the general feeling is that everyone but the big fish is being fried.

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Among the early convicts is Treza Senzani, a former principal secretary, who is serving a measly three years for stealing millions of kwacha. It happens that Senzani has, like Oswald Lutepo and Leonard Kalonga before her, alleged that Banda was, in fact, the mastermind of the Cashgate Scandal. Apparently, so the allegation goes, she wanted to finance the People’s Party campaign in the 2014 general elections.

As usual when confronted with such allegations, Banda steps forward to vigorously defend herself in the court of public opinion. This time, however, her self-defence took the form of an attack on President Mutharika: she thinks the President is putting pressure on the convicts to implicate her for no reason other than to settle political scores.

Says she: “These attempts to tarnish my name and legacy are the works of President Peter Mutharika personally and the DPP government. It is unfortunate that as a lawyer he [Mutharika] does not realise that it is immoral to abuse his immunity from prosecution by scandalising my name. I would have wished I met him in court so he can prove my guilt to the entire world.”

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Banda’s emotionally charged statement is interesting in that she makes an allegation without providing any proof whatsoever. She thinks it is enough to simply say that Mutharika is behind the revelations, and that we, as the public, will not be bothered by the need for her to prove her accusation.

She is mistaken. Malawians want the truth of the Cashgate Scandal to come out. If someone says she is the mastermind, the honourable thing for her to do is to wait for her day in court and prove her innocence. Pointing fingers at Mutharika is not an excellent idea of cleaning her name.

Malawians are angry. They are frustrated that each leader that comes into office seems not to care about the well-being of the nation. All our leaders want is to steal public funds and maintain their hold on power.

The public wants the K20 billion Cashgate Scandal to be resolved to its very end. Not only that, people want to see the K577 billion traced, recovered and the culprits brought to book. As we all know, the K577 billion started when Bingu wa Mutharika, deceased brother to the incumbent, was in power, and spilled over to the time when Joyce Banda was in charge.

Politicising genuine intentions of establishing the truth with regard to Cashgate Scandals is a shame. As the Book of Amos says in the Holy Bible, let justice roll like water.

However, even more bizarre was the Malawi Government’s response to Mrs Banda’s accusations. Government statement said: “JB [Joyce Banda] is clearly a fugitive who had fled from justice in Malawi.

If not, we challenge her to return home immediately to face [Treza] Senzani in court, and other Cashgate suspects who have corroborated her story.”

Fugitive? Really? The Cambdridge English Dictionary defines ‘fugitive’ as ‘a person who is running away or hiding from the police.’ Banda is not hiding from the police, so far as we know. There is no warrant of arrest in her name. She did not leave Malawi clandestinely: she passed through the airport, boarded her flight and left.

How, then, can she be called a fugitive?

If the police have uncovered enough evidence to arrest her, let them issue a warrant before we start bandying about the fugitive slur.

The government also needs to bear in mind that, accusations notwithstanding, Banda is innocent until proved guilty by the courts. It is irresponsible on the part of the government to paint her as guilty before due process has taken place in a court of competent jurisdiction.

It is also embarrassing for us Malawians to see two of our giants engage in a shouting context through the media, instead of behaving in a mature manner. Let Banda save her breath and come home to clear her name, or else just shut up.

And let Mutharika and his government stop calling her a fugitive before issuing any warrant of arrest.

We Malawians deserve better. We deserve a mature approach to issues of national importance. We want our leaders past and present to behave like leaders and not like children in a kindergarten.

The country can benefit from a mature approach to the resolution of the Cashgate Scandal, rather than being subjected to pointless namecalling and bickering.

We have real challenges at hand. The other day, Foreign Affairs Minister, George Chaponda, was begging donors to return.

The government has realised that for all its rhetoric about donors, it needs them, and without them we cannot achieve anything. These are matters we want to preoccupy our national discourse, not two leaders arguing over whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.

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