It is undisputable that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice-president for the Central Region, Heatherwick Ntaba, has the gift of the gab. Ntaba can speak on end without saying anything but leaving you yearning to hear him even more. Journalists know that Ntaba is a tape-roller who can rumble on without telling you a thing. He is the type that can tell you the sky is red and you rush to an optician for a re-examination of your pair of contact lenses.
He wowed Malawians when he was spokesperson of opponents of multiparty democracy in the mid-1990s. I remember how he dismissed the fact that people jeered the then Malawi Congress Party strongman, John Tembo, when he appeared at the High Court of Malawi during the Mwanza Murder case. Ntaba told the BBC Radio that he was present at the court and that, in fact, Malawians cheered Tembo.
When he courted trouble for saying the then president Bakili Muluzi’s speech was silly, Ntaba quickly clarified that he meant the speech was “funny” and not necessarily foolish.
That was the Ntaba that Malawians dubbed “the talking computer.”
But hearing Ntaba now, one is tempted to think that the computer’s operating system is now corrupted. It was incredible to hear him describe as “rubbish” calls by civil rights activists that the DPP must pay back money that parastatals gave it during its fundraising dinner dance dubbed the Blue Night.
For starters, Ntaba organised and chaired the fundraiser. He ran adverts on State-controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Television, calling on people to call him for donations to the Blue Night. Blantyre City Council (BCC) donated K5 million, Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) paid another K5 million while the poorest city council, Mzuzu, coughed K3.5 million to run activities of the ruling party.
It might be important to state that BCC reluctantly paid K2 million but the DPP told the council that the money was too little. BCC was told to show appreciation for all the developments that the DPP has registered in the city such as the clock towers that are ubiquitous at every junction. Never mind the fact that the clock towers resemble products students design in community technical colleges in partial fulfillment of their vocational requirements.
For Mzuzu, Malawians know that the council is deep in debt to the point that it pays its employees by instalment. So, as the workers mull over the next yarn to sell to their landlords, their employer is making the DPP happy. The story of LWB is as well-known as our National Anthem. The board is piping out effluent to its Area 18 customers and has thrown in the towel, confessing that the challenge has forced it to its wit end. LWB also donated K10 million to the DPP social wing, Mulhako wa Alhomwe, in January.
These are the public bodies that Ntaba happily squeezed money from in order to prepare for the 2019 general election campaign.
But Ntaba’s argument that the public bodies made free-will donations is silly; meaning funny.
It is common knowledge that the DPP strategically placed its boys and girls in public bodies to facilitate siphoning of State funds for party errands. Stories abound of how DPP Cadets and senior party officials have bullied parastatals and investors into buying them vehicles and giving them cash for party functions. We have heard how senior DPP officials have received payments from parastatals for goods and services that they have not even delivered. As we discuss Ntaba’s load of rubbish, parastatals such as Escom are agonising on how to dispose of obsolete equipment that DPP operatives supplied without any agreement.
This is why it is silly or funny for Ntaba to throw rubbish at Malawians by saying “no-one was forced” to make those donations. We all know that no chief executive officer (CEO) would snub the DPP’s extortionist antics.
But DPP is shooting itself in the foot. The government will not be able to discipline CEOs who are donating public funds to the ruling party. This partly accounts for why we have a lot of dead wood in the public sector: people whose only strength is being cheerleaders.
This is running counter to the spirit of the public sector reform programme that the DPP administration touted. The reforms aimed to hire people on merit and make employees account for their man hours.
The practice also promotes corruption. How does the DPP ensure that what the public bodies dole out is what really reaches the party? Indeed, what would stop the CEOs from claiming more funding in the name of the party for their personal use?
The most shocking part of the Blue Night was that DPP officials who are answering charges of corruption donated millions to the party and they were shamelessly acknowledged. Now these cases have already dragged for long. Would Malawians be faulted to conclude that the ruling party is keeping prosecutors on a short leash just because the suspects bankroll party activities?
The ideal would have been for the DPP to pay back the money. But, as far as Ntaba is concerned, money is always welcome even if it comes in a dirty pouch.