Joyce Banda: I won't cry about Malawi aid freeze over corruption scandal
Exclusive: Joyce Banda, Malawi's president, says she won't be a "cry baby" about Britain and other donors pulling aid over corruption scandal
Joyce Banda, the embattled president of Malawi who is facing a multi-million pound corruption scandal that has swallowed up to a third of the budget of her impoverished country, has said she will not be a "cry baby" over the decision by Western donors including Britain to freeze aid.
I am a bit pissed off about this. Malawi is trying very hard to build a strong stable democracy that functions for its people unlike many of the regimes in the region. In October last year I blogged about President Banda taking the highly unusual step for any nation and slashing her own salary." Joyce Banda, the Malawian President, has slashed her salary by 30 per cent to share in the "difficult times" suffered by her countrymen since she dramatically devalued the currency.
The pay cut will see Mrs Banda's salary drop from a reported £37,000 a year to £26,000, while her vice president will see a similar reduction."
Mrs Banda, southern Africa's first female head of state, became the West's darling for her reformist agenda after the death of her autocratic predecessor, said she should be given credit for tackling the graft head-on.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph this week, she said she understood the need for British politicians and taxpayers to have confidence in her government – and pledged to work hard to ensure trust is rebuilt.
I don't think there is much more she can do. She has made it clear in international forums she is committed to sorting this problem out.
"If you want me to be a cry baby I cannot, I am the leader of a country. If you want to give me something and then withdraw it, fine, I must respect your decision. I am not going to cry over it, no," she said.
"I have made an announcement that if you are my daughter, my son, my party official, my cabinet minister, and you find yourself involved in this, you are going to go to jail. I am not going to stand in the way.
She has lived up to that pledge quite a few senior officials both elected and in the civil service have some explaining to do.
" Banda said about 30 percent of the nation’s resources is being stolen through corruption. The Cashgate scandal has led authorities to arrest 68 people, open 18 court cases, freeze 33 bank accounts and appoint international investigators to conduct a forensic audit, she said.
“The fight against corruption has to continue,” Banda said. “So whoever takes over must continue this fight. If we don’t, Malawi shall remain where it is.”
"Yes, people in the UK will feel they are justified to withhold aid but I also think the UK will look at a new breed of leaders across the continent that have decided to fight it."
What is aid ? From the 1880's through to 1964 Great Britain was the colonial power in Malawi or putting it another way for the best part of 100 years the British nicked the economic output of Malawi. The paltry amounts of aid that are returned today need to be balanced against that theft, certainly the UK has a right to expect its aid money is not purloined by corrupt criminals but that needs to be kept in perspective.
If the UK requires an honest accounting for where its aid is going I doubt any would object but at some point it should be remembered that Malawi might require the same from Britain with regards to the economic output of the region whilst under British control.
The so-called Cashgate scandal first came to light following the near-fatal shooting of the Malawian budget director, who is thought to have been about to blow the whistle on the scam.
In the police raids that followed, civil servants were discovered with thousands of dollars stashed in their car boots and at their homes.
So far, 68 people including the ministers of finance and justice and a score of senior officials have been arrested for allegedly siphoning off money from government coffers through fraudulent use of procurement systems.
The point is that Malawi discovered these criminals and acted. Punishing Malawi for doing the right thing is just batshit crazy.
Foreign donors including Britain, the EU and Norway, who have pumped millions of pounds into reviving Malawi's stricken economy, providing 40 per cent of its budget, have suspended all direct aid and made no secret of their fury over the systematic looting.
Yes quite a few African nations would have the right to be furious about the systematic looting that occurred while they were under colonial rule.
Mrs Banda insists the corruption began 15 years ago and was ignored by previous presidents but that she has been working behind the scenes for months to put a stop to it.
"There's no one who can come and say they are more traumatised that we are about this," she said.
"We have worked extremely hard to turn our country around – I have not slept for more than six hours for a year and a half. And we thought we had come out of the woods but then we find we are going backwards. There's no way we can be looked upon as those that don't care."
In a continent run by Crocodiles Joyce Banda is someone we should all be helping. If Banda falls who will benefit ?
She claims to have had to step up her security amid death threats, and said one ambassador told her she presided over a "country of thieves".
Mrs Banda said that her neighbours in the region had told her she was a "fool" to raise her hand about the leakage, especially since she is coming up for her first elections since taking office, in May next year.
"It is a high cost for me just doing that, as a politician, six months before elections because for everyone I have arrested, I have lost a whole village of votes," she said.
"I did not realise this – I thought they would look at the issues but no, they say 'but it's our daughter that you have arrested'."
Lets also remember the human rights dimension. This woman actually cares.
Many Malawians believe that Mrs Banda, 63, a former gender activist and factory owner who sold off the presidential jet and slashed her salary after coming to power, was either involved or at least knew about the corruption.
But most of the key donors say they are yet to see any evidence of her complicity and, for the moment, are giving her the benefit of the doubt.
She said she had been "bruised and smeared" by the allegations of involvement, but would not be deterred.
"I am prepared to get bruised because I just feel that this must stop and must stop now. We are finishing 50 years of independence this year, we are going into the next 50 years," she said.
"It is my wish that this rot remains in this millennium. That we go into the next one rejuvenated, clean and ready to prosper."
Her ambition – shared by donors, although they say the timeframe is optimistic - is to stop the leaks from the budget, exploit natural resources including possible oil reserves discovered in Lake Malawi and be free of foreign aid within a decade.
"The donors have not walked away for the first time. They come and go and come and go but we are here, we did not die," she said.
"Sometimes when these things happen, you grow up, you find other ways. We must become creative, we are not going to be dependant forever. Perhaps this is a golden opportunity for us.
"If we do certain things right and if we are as determined as we are as I sit here, in 10 years' time the donors shall be our partners, not our providers, and we shall have weaned ourselves from budget support."
We have a choice in the west and it would seem we are determined to fuck that chance up. Lets not. Lets try and get it right for once.