Keep your accounts to yourself!

The NGO board keeps bringing up the issue of NGOs audited accounts. NGOs are not submitting, because this is confidential information. And they are right.

The NGO board does not have a legal mandate to require these accounts. There is no provision for it in the NGO act.

NGOs have good reason to keep their accounts confidential, while the NGO Board does not have the capacity to do anything useful with them. We all know that government is not keeping its own accounts itself, so a government organization having the capacity to work with other organizations accounts is far-fetched.

ON the other hand NGOs have good reason to keep their accounts confidential: while a lot of government officials and organizations are very cooperative, some are obstructing NGO work. We all know those coordination meetings where nothing gets coordinated and participants are struggling to stay awake, only to become alert when the allowances are being distributed. That’s when the overall objective of the meeting becomes clear: to eat into the NGO’s funds. I have seen budgets where 85% of the budget went into overhead, mainly government meetings, leaving only 15% for the actual project implementation. When NGO accounts fall into the hands of this type of people, it becomes impossible to deliver quality projects.

Also: non-compliance with bad regulation (and in this case illegal regulation) is a form of civil disobedience that does serve a useful purpose. We should not comply with everything government officials do or demand. The days of Kamuzu Banda’s dictatorship, when any government official could pester anyone or any organization are over. These days government officials are accountable to the public, that is paying their salaries (and allowances!)

One reason why so many officials get away with low quality work and sometimes even corruption is that we are too compliant. We should not let ourselves be bullied around. We should protest any irregularities, and any bad regulation. We should be disobedient in strategic ways.

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APM talks, but walks NOT!

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President Peter Mutharika urged governments communities and people in the developing world to prioritize education. He made this statement in the light of his own performance in the sector: his government cut 500,000,000 off the education budget for 2016. This has resulted in 10,000 trained teachers out of work, an average class size of 96 against a national standard of a maximum of 60 and an international standard of a maximum of 30 learners per teacher. It has also resulted in teachers having to go on strike to get their allowances and salaries paid. Some teachers even were forced to stage a sit in at the ministry of education to get their salaries. One wonders how President APM looks at the concept of governments prioritizing education, when he performs abysmal in the area himself.

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Fortunately the President, who crowned himself champion of education, answers the question in the same speech. He said: Sometimes the resources are all around us, but they cannot be invested in education because everyone thinks education is the responsibility of government.

So there is the answer to the question why our Champion of Education is underfunding that same education sector: he thinks it is not his responsibility!

Well, who would do it otherwise? The parents/families are too poor to finance quality education privately (due to a bad economy, whose responsibility would the economy be Mr President?). The private sector is in a bad way thanks to economic challenges, so they cannot fund it. And even if they could: their priorities are different from the patriotic standard of national interest. So the content of private sector funded education would be out of line with the national interest. Who else? It cannot be donors: this same President recently stated on BBC radio that the country can be weaned of donors in five years. So he cannot ask them for bigger allocations to education than they are already providing (which is big money)

Who will pay now the DPP/Mutharika government is cutting back on education?

 

SHAME ON ESCOM! SHAME ON OUR POLITICIANS!

Our electricity situation has not been as bad as now since times immemorial. We have 4b3744b74522221f7c848102939de589_xlblack outs and load shedding on an unprecedented scale against tariffs unheard of until recently. And it is all down to incompetence, corruption and mismanagement. Our politicians are being paid salaries to make sure we get the services we pay tax for. Are they performing? No, three times no, no, no! Instead of making sure Escom performs, they are bickering among each other over the spoils of corruption.

What is the situation?

Due to climate change, the levels of water in the Shire are lower than ever in 15 years. This limits power generation. Now every company knows that it is of paramount importance to spread risks to ensure consistent performance in the light of volatilities. But Escom has been generating over 90% of its capacity from the Shire river for decades. This is bad management. And there is no excuse like: we did not have the financial means to do something about it. Under Bingu wa Mutharika’s reign (before 2012) Escom received a grant of US 325,000,000. That is (current exchange rate) over MK 256,000,000,000. With that kind of money and 4 years in between, it would have been perfectly possible to build more capacity. Which is what the grant was intended for. But that has not happened. The only idea that Escom came up with was building a coal fired power plant. Now every child knows that coal is the dirtiest fuel on earth. It pollutes left right and center, and contributes to climate change big time. Exactly the climate change that caused the power generation now to fail with low water levels in the Shire. So this coal fired power plant that is planned is going to contribute more to the problems that are interfering with our electricity supply as it is! Bad idea.

819f5b6eb52350a170986a3670177bfb_xlOn the other hand: the conditionality of the grant was that Escom needed to be run in a capitalist way. After all, the grant came from the US Millenium Challenge Corporation, which is American. And it is in the US interest to spread capitalism, so they attach capitalist conditionalities to their aid. That’s the sting of the “Beggars are not Choosers” policies that our governments have been following ever since independence. Now our government has been sabotaging this conditionality: for political expediency they have decided not to shed any jobs at Escom. And they are offering low prices of electricity to potential competing private sector providers, which keep them out of the market. On the other hand they decided to make the electricity user pay for this inefficiency, by raising tariffs through the roof. So now we have the inefficiency of our Malawian Politicians combined with the pricing strategy of the American donors, and we get the worst of both worlds. Black outs, load shedding, as well as the highest electricity tariffs in the region. Our politicians are treating jobs at para-statals like Escom as rewards for political support, not as heavy responsibilities that need to be checked, accountable to the population, and subject to dismissal in case of non-performance. So the top dogs at Escom can be corrupt, inefficient and incompetent if they like. They only need to supply political support to the powers that be.

The victim is the population: most have no electricity connection at all, and those who do are dealing with bad quality and high prices.

Recently Jimmy Kainja wrote an article about corruption, in which he states that the population does not object against corruption because corruption has become normal. This is a chicken-and-egg reasoning: it is also the case that corruption has become normal because the population does not object effectively against it.

How then should we stop it? My proposal is: civil disobedience. We need to stay peaceful, for a civil war would be as bad as the corruption that is attacking us now. But we need to force the corrupt powers out of corruption. At the moment those in power have an interest in remaining corrupt, so they will keep doing it as they can.

Civil disobedience is an organized disobedience that puts the powers that be (the state powers) under pressure. This can take the form of mass demonstrations (which are legal, but often still the government tries to stop them illegally, or unarmed demonstrators are shot to death as the Bingu Administration did to 20 of our comrades in 2011). Or defying government orders. Sit ins, especially in high profile locations like the entrance to the Parliament or the entrance to the State House. Refusal to comply with bad regulation is another way. As I wrote recently, NGOs are en masse refusing to submit their financial administration to the NGO Board, because the NGO Board has no business with this information. And because 90% of the NGOs are refusing, it is impossible for the NGO Board to close them: this would cause huge protests from the population. This is an important lesson: together we stand, divided we fall. For more ways of effectively implementing civil disobedience we should look to Mahatma Gandhi, who defied the British colonial authorities and achieved independence for India as early as 1947 (a decade before any African country!). Also important is Dr Martin Luther King, who used civil disobedience in the USA against racism and for civil rights for ethnic minorities (mostly African Americans). There was state violence against the civil rights activists, but the activists were trained in non-violent resistance, and in the end they won. The US South was mostly integrated. We need to employ similar tactics to force the endemic corruption out of our government system (and other parts of society like the private sector and NGO sector, too!)

Defy Government

The Nation last week carried a peculiar article: “90% aid to NGOs can’t be traced”

This headline is misleading: the NGO board does not get submitted the books of NGOs amounting to 90% of the funding. But that does not mean it can’t be traced, just that the NGOs are not submitting their books.

The demand by the NGO board that NGOs must submit their books has no legal basis, it is illegal regulation. NGOs (having legal advisors) know this and defy the NGO board. This is a good example of civil disobedience: a government organization makes an illegal and unjust demand, and the NGOs defy the order. Let the NGO board sue them, and they can prove the demand is illegal. The NGO board knows this too, and does not initiate legal action. It just cries foul in the newspaper. Anyway: the NGO board cannot afford to close down 90% of the NGOs. They also know that much of the tasks that government is not fulfilling are done by NGOs, and that the population will suffer from closing these NGOs. And that will cause problems for government: they will be seen even more as non-performing than is now the case. So the NGOs can afford to defy the NGO board, and that is what they are doing.

We need more of this kind of action in many places: if regulations are not just, we need to challenge them, the way the NGOs are challenging the NGO board. If actions from government or any other actor are not just, we need to challenge them. Now NGOs are in a better position to do this, because they are more powerful than the individual citizen, especially if the citizen happens to be poor, which is the large majority of the population. But with concerted action, it is very well possible to put government on the right track.

We saw this recently when the population of Mulanje chased away Minister of agriculture Chaponda. Again, if the population gets organized it becomes difficult if not impossible for government to keep oppressing the population.

Government is performing far below expectation: bad service delivery. Think of the condition of our schools, the availability (or non-availability) of drugs in hospitals, the worsening security situation, the ordeal of getting a passport, drivers license or car registration, the swindle at Admarc or any of the other services government is supposed to provide. We need to get organized like the NGOs, and defy unjust government. That is civil disobedience and it is a strong weapon of the population to defend our rights against government oppression and non-performance.

The tale of the Golden Goose

hqdefaultOnce there was a poor farmer. He had no money to buy inputs, so his yields were low. He had no food, no money to pay school fees for his children, no money to maintain his house. Somehow, he got hold of a goose. This was a big treasure for him, but it turned out for him even better: when the goose laid an egg, it was made of gold! The farmer sold the egg, and he bought food. The next week the goose laid another golden egg, so they named it the Golden Goose. golden-eggThe farmer paid school fees and bought school uniforms. The next week the Golden Goose laid a golden egg again. This time the farmer bought farm inputs for the year. But then he got impatient. He had to wait a full week for the next golden egg. He thought: the golden eggs come from the Golden Goose, so all I need to do is slaughter it and find all golden eggs at once. He slaughtered the Golden Goose, but no golden eggs had grown inside yet. So he lost his treasure and pretty soon he was back to being poor again.

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Once there was a government of a poor country. Because it was poor the country got support from donors. The donors financed development projects. But the government of the poor country did not want to wait for the development to pay off, they wanted money immediately. So they started paying themselves allowances and giving themselves lucrative but dishonest deals. And they simply took cash from state coffers in their car boots. The donors did not like this: they wanted to finance development but not self-enrichment. So they put a stop to financing corrupt government officials and financed development projects directly. The government looked for other sources to pay allowances and perks and luxury cars and lucrative dishonest deals. And they pushed up revenue collection: they taxed more products, they slapped fees on all kinds of things, like more permits for transport. They pushed up prices of public utilities such as water and electricity. They hiked university fees up to 400%. And they kept on collecting allowances and lucrative deals, while they lowered the quantity and quality of services offered to the population. Police did not get enough budget to function, so security deteriorated.b4116110ef1574aa2c15df81a90de096

All these costs made it difficult for the population and businesses to thrive. They could not make money, so they paid less taxes. There was less money around for allowances and lucrative dishonest deals. So the government borrowed money, lots of money. This crowded out the private sector and pushed up interest rates, as well as caused run-away inflation. All this made it even more difficult for the population and businesses to make money. So the government income kept shrinking until it reached rock bottom.

What is the connection between the two stories?