Malawi’s new Finance Minister Maxwell Mkwezalamba travels to Brussels, Belgium, next week on an assignment that has been described as both a “challenge” and “an opportunity” as he will negotiate a €560 million funding for Malawi for the next seven years.
“It is a challenging assignment but at the same time an opportunity,” Malawi’s Ambassador to the European Union (EU) Brave Ndisale told PANA in an exclusive interview in Brussels.
Nkwezalamba will be in Brussels to negotiate the 11th European Development Fund (2014-2020) worth €560 million.
The negotiations come at a time when most of Malawi’s development partners, including the EU, have suspended budgetary support following the unprecedented looting of public resources at the seat of government, Capital Hill, dubbed ‘cashgate’ by the media.
Ndisale, who also represents Malawi to Belgium, France, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Switzerland, said the negotiations would be a ‘challenge’ since the ‘cashgate’ crisis is currently on everyone’s mind.
She, however, said this is an ‘opportunity’ for Malawi because as things have exploded government has shown that it is doing something about it.
“The current government has discovered issues of corruption and it is addressing them, fraud has been discovered and government has accepted it and it is addressing the same,” she said.
The envoy nonetheless said after accepting that there is a problem, how government addresses it is very crucial to the future relations with development partners, including the EU.
“How you address the problem is an opportunity,” she said. “All eyes are on Malawi. We must not only send out the political message, but also we must demonstrate how we are addressing the issue both in the short and long term.”
Ndisale said donors were willing to listen and that Nkwezalamba, who arrives in Brussels 1 Dec., has an opportunity to sell Malawi’s case to the 28-member economic bloc.
“It is a challenging assignment but, at the same time, an opportunity and I have trust Dr. Mkwezalamba has what it takes,” she said of the former African Union Economic Commissioner.
Mkwezalamba and his entourage will meet the EU commissioners, led by Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, where he will present Malawi’s case for the 11th European Development Fund, which will focus on sectors of Agriculture and Food Security, Governance and Education, including development of technical colleges between 2014 and 2020.
President Joyce Banda, who ironically had to cancel her own visit to Brussels where she was supposed to attend the European Development Day events on Tuesday and Wednesday this week as part of the finance ministry’s travel ban edict, appointed Mkwezalamba Finance Minister to help restore confidence in a ministry where billions of kwacha were pilfered in non-existent contracts with government.
The ‘cashgate’ unravelled in the wake of the unprecedented 13 Sept. shooting of Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo as he drove into his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe.
The attempt on the youthful technocrat’s life opened a Pandora’s Box with civil servants being found with millions of unexplained loot hidden in their car boots or homes.
Over ten civil servants and businessmen have been arrested and are currently in court answering corruption, fraud and theft by public servants charges.
President Banda dissolved her entire cabinet in October in the wake of the ‘cashgate’, the worst financial scandal since Malawi re-introduced multiparty democracy in 1994.
She subsequently fired Finance Minister Ken Lipenga and his Justice colleague Ralph Kasambara.
Kasambara is currently in police custody after being arrested in connected with the Mphwiyo shooting.
Lipenga, who has not been officially accused of any wrong-doing, last week appeared before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to explain the scandal.