Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Panama Files and man in stained glass-window

Hypocricy, a word many abhor, seems to run through development partners’ blood like a thick thread:

Come to think of it. For many years— or, in other words since Malawi gained independence— development partners have taken advantage of their position as institutional, bilateral or multilateral donors to practice politics of patronage.

If not sounding like a concerned patron intent on instilling good morals in the ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ that is Malawi through strings that are, often, more painful than the economic or social ‘disease’ they seek to cure, then, it is the suspension of support. The support, whatever name it may be given, is often reduced to three forms: technical, moral and financial.

It turns out all the holier-than-though attitude exuded by the so-called strict development partners is a form of public display designed to hide the development partners shoddy dealings. It turns out the haloed figure called the development partner has only succeeded in painting the picture of a deceitful figure who has relatively succeeded in hiding weaknesses behind a stained glass-window.

The Panama Files— as revelations of politicians, sports personalities and business tycoons’ shoddy dealings through offshore accounts has become known— offer a clear picture of the game of hypocricy the so-called holier-than-though development partners have played on us over the years.

But their world came crushing down last Sunday when a year-long investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and 100-plus other media houses brought to the fore what people we have been looking up to as the epitome of fair dealing have been up to all these years.

We have learned, perhaps for the umpteenth time, that a global version of Cashgate has been playing out in the world, to which the development partners who are so nosy when it comes to sniffing the scent of our sins, have paid a blind eye.

But the truth— as shown by, we are told, over 11.5 million financial and legal records that expose shoddy dealings through secretive offshore companies— cannot be hidden forever, thanks to whistleblowers and alert media houses.

The presence of whistleblowers offers us hope that, no matter how long it takes, justice has a way of finding itself in the public domain, offering, yet again, the lesson that what is hidden can be unhidden.

Which is why I get surprised by public officials’ reluctance to introduce legislation that protects whistleblowers. Even the United States is jittery about the role of whistleblowers, if the way it handled the issue of how it tapped into phones of some of the world’s leaders is anything to go by. We need laws promoting and protecting whistle-blowing in this country.

Not that the egg has rotten in Europeans’ basket alone. That is not what I am implying. After all, it has come to our attention that that, at least, 140 politicians and public officials from around the world are part of the rot. Not just that, we also learn that, more than 214, 000 offshore entities, connected to people— including prime ministers, presidents and kings — in more than 200 countries and territories are part of the beneficiaries.

Surprisingly, the often vocal development partners have been quiet, opting to adopt a wait-and-see approach as events unfold. It is unlike the way they have handled Cashgate— the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill in Lilongwe— which they condemned from hill tops from the word go.

To date, the aid taps remain closed and direct support to Malawi’s budget remains anathema to their ‘clean’ way of doing things. Of course, President Peter Mutharika and kitty-man Goodall Gondwe have suggested that it is not only Malawi that is being treated as a leper, and that the donors are withdrawing their support from all over the place.

Sure, but they are doing it when countries such as Malawi still need a financial push regularized through direct budgetary support. The good thing about direct support to the National Budget is that all the people of Malawi— through their Members of Parliament— participate in it and authorise the utilisation of the funds once the National Budget is passed in Parliament.

But— when the development partners support key sectors such as education, health, agriculture, energy, among others— their off budget support is not subjected to much scrutiny. It is like the support has been channeled to an offshore institution’s account!

Of course, others are of the view that Malawians should not read too much into the Panama Files. They say Malawians cannot point fingers at development partners and blame them for what has transpired offshore— or whatever activity takes place in offshore accounts by people out to, like everyone else, make a good fortune.

They say, unlike Cashgate— which entailed the siphoning of public funds that did not belong to us [a large part of the financial resources came from development partners], in the first place— those implicated in the Panama Files have stolen their own money by avoiding meeting legal requirements and paying taxes.

But, then, a wrong is a wrong. In fact, the best way to look at it is through the moral prism. Morally, I think, it will be self-defeating for development partners to talk of fair dealing, transparency, accountability and honesty without shooting themselves in the foot.

This moral dilemma will disturb the world order of doing things for years to come. But, as they say, the ‘real’ thief is the one caught with his hands in the jar.

For the time being, our European, Asian counterparts will remain holy by, among other strategies, drawing our eyes to the dangers of terrorism in Nigeria, lack of democracy in the Central African Republic, or how Cashgate has made the poor more poor in Malawi.

Call these the ‘fair’ dealings of a man in a stained glass-window!

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