/ 18 May 2014

Malawi’s Banda calls Cashgate her election trump card

Malawi's President Joyce Banda has wrapped up her election campaigning.
Malawi's President Joyce Banda has wrapped up her election campaigning.

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda wrapped up her election campaign on Saturday by claiming that a graft scandal, which rocked her administration is in fact her trump card.

As part of her campaign to crack down on corruption, she last year ordered an audit, which found that millions of dollars in state funds had been looted by officials under her watch.

Banda’s opponents accuse her of complicity in the theft and have used the so-called Cashgate scandal in their campaigns against her ahead of Tuesday’s election.

But she told journalists before addressing a final rally in her home village of Songani on the outskirts of Zomba, the scandal would not affect her showing at the polls. If anything, the Cashgate scandal was one of the highlights of her two years in office and that should work to her advantage, she suggested.

“In fact that’s my greatest achievement,” she said, adding that it had emerged that the rot had been going on before she came into office.

Banda’s decision to fight graft put her political career at risk, but she had no choice and someone had to wage the battle, she said.

“It’s just there’s one bold president who came in and decided enough was enough,” she said. “I realised and I was advised that seven months before elections was too short for me to tackle corruption because the people that are benefiting from it, they will fight you back, they will bring you down, you may never get up … I said yes, I don’t have a choice. I took risks, I had to make very bold decisions.”

A former vice-president, Banda took power in 2012 after the death in office of president Bingu wa Mutharika.

“I came in and found a country that was corrupt and bankrupt, I have turned around the economy,” she said.

Banda managed to kickstart growth with painful economic reforms, winning the confidence of donors who returned with vital aid – some of which was again suspended after Cashgate.

In the 24 months she has been at the helm of the impoverished country, the economic growth rate jumped to over 5% from 1.8%.

Banda squares up in the election against the brother of her predecessor, Peter Mutharika, who is her closest rival, and two other candidates who have a significant support base. – AFP