During my early primary school days I developed a dream (Let me confess that mine was in black and white). I recall that time we were using slates to write on or worse still we would write on the ground and the teacher would go round and mark our work from there.
I can’t remember how I convinced my parents whenever I passed the “ground assignment” with flying colours.
Back to my black and white dream. I always longed for the day when I would write on a piece of paper using a pen (we used to call them ball pens).
Then came the most awaited moment; First term in Standard Five. We were given exercise books and pens. Oh my my, I wrote the whole day and I can’t remember what I scribbled in that first book.
In between the Slate Age and Pen Revolution we had also used pencils but they never appealed to me. I always wanted a pen.
The school pens were free and after some time my aesthetic taste started improving and I longed for more. I occasionally stole my father’s fancy pens so as to look different among friends at school.
I didn’t know how much money my father paid to get those fancy pens and as I grew up and started asking for money to buy my own, I was given amounts like 50 tambala to buy one.
Afterwards I did not follow the cost of a pen and things have remained so up until lately when I was told that the price had shot to K2,500.
It shocked me so much such that I tried to look back at the country’s economy since the early 90s. I tried to calculate all the devaluations that have taken place since then (excluding the current one) but my scanty economics knowledge never satisfied my curiosity. A pen? Costing K2,500? Really?
In the midst of my struggle, a friend confronted me and told me I was a mere village boy who does not understand the dynamics and variety of taste. I agreed with the person and told him to take me to any shop at Blantyre Market and show me a pen that cost that much. He was dumbfounded and asked me to go with him to an upmarket shop along the Victoria Avenue.
There then I realized I had done a bad job in explaining to my friend on the real issue at hand. I have no problem with people buying pens at K2,500 with their personal money but when they do that with public money, it pains me.
This story must go to our Members of Parliament. Lately, they have been deliberating on the just presented National Budget and one of the issues under discussion is what the country should do with the Presidential Jet.
As things stand I do not know which side of the debate I should take. Even if I give my views, our President will still travel and she needs comfortable means to get wherever she wants.
Surely, the debate has been limited to one question “To sell or not to sell?”
Malawi Congress Party which pressed for the jet to be sold during the Bingu regime has now changed tune and they think Mrs. Joyce Banda can use it (I miss their logic though)
However, what our MPs don’t know is that as they are busy weighing the options on the jet they should also have been talking about what the nation should do with The Pens. Pens? Yes Pens!!
What about them?
Somewhere behind the chamber, people are purchasing pens using public money; Nothing wrong with that.
But the anomaly has come due to revelations that those pens are being bought at K2,500 each. Give me a break. You mean we can spend time arguing on the jet just because it is costly to manage when the country is wasting money buying expensive pens for officers to use?
Unsullied and verified information has it that prices at this institution are inflated to astronomical levels such that a pen that can be bought at K50 market value is pegged at very unrealistic value.
There is more happening at this institution. The National Audit Office sent Auditors some four months ago to the institution and they have come up with issues that require management explanation.
Sadly, for the past month or so, management has been running away from furnishing the auditors with information.
Surprisingly, Treasury has sent more auditors from what they call Central Audit and they have unearthed the following:-
- The institution procured stationery worth over K70 million in 3 months from July to October 2011 yet right now there is no stationery.
- Members of the Management team have been drawing pool fuel for their official vehicles yet government pays them fuel allowance every month end.
- A consultant who was contracted by Internal Procurement Committee (IPC) to do a consultancy on the Conjunction Bill (As Muluzi would say ‘I repeat again for the second time, CONJUNCTION BILL’) was paid twice for the same job over K3 million.
(Somebody still wants me to say Injunction but again I say Conjunction)
- Inflating of prices is the order of the day. Besides the pen cost, a plumbing invoice of about K800 000 shot up to more than K 3million.
This is sickening. I cry for my country, the more we try to create a corruption free society, the more Malawians have their hard-earned taxes being abused left, right and centre.
We cannot cut extravagance on Presidential needs while at the same time failing to live within means thereby spending public money on things we can do with less or we can do without.
May be activist Ben Chiza Mkandawire wasn’t wrong when sometime last year he called on Malawians to Occupy the Institution.