Malawi MP to donors: Stopping aid only hurts the poor

Edicas Nachinga and her family take shelter in a straw hut after their mud house in Karonga, Malawi, was destroyed by two earthquakes in 2009. Malawi was viewed as an "aid darling" until several government officials were caught stealing foreign aid. Photo by: Shareefa Choudhury/ Department for International Development / CC BY

“Aid darling” no more.

Just two months ago, Malawi was viewed by donors as an ideal country to send foreign aid to. President Joyce Banda had been in power for over a year and was still widely respected by the international community, which she pleased by devaluing the local currency, promising to fight corruption and allowing donors to drive the country’s development strategy.

All seemed to be going quite well until last September, when several government officials were caught stealing huge amounts of foreign aid, and the presumed whistleblower — another official — barely survived an assassination attempt.

Now this country, one of Africa’s poorest nations, stands to lose up to 40 percent of the budget support it was receiving from foreign donors after the European Union, the World Bank and the United Kingdom decided to suspend aid pending the results of the government investigation into the alleged corruption scandal, popularly known as “Cashgate.”

This action may appease Western taxpayers but in Malawi, but according to a local politician, withholding much-needed official development assistance only hurts the majority of the population — the poor.

“The suspension of aid means that most of the people will suffer because they will not have their basic needs provided”, McJones Mandala Shaba, former industry minister and MP for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, told Devex.

He acknowledged the presence of “corrupt elements” within the government that are stealing aid money, but called on donors to be patient, resume budget support and let President Banda root out the rogue elements that are tarnishing the nation’s reputation among the aid community.

“Civil society, NGOs, all Malawians are joining hands to ensure that the government is … accountable for the resources which it collects,” Shaba said in Brussels, where he is one of several African experts on a fact-finding mission to learn more about how they can improve on tax collection from representatives of European governments, EU institutions and U.N. agencies.

Malawians, he said, are looking forward to  the government coming up with a concrete plan to fight corruption and ensure ODA funds are used only for the intended purpose in the country.

“I work together with my colleagues to ensure that corruption is addressed in our country so that aid is resumed, because the suspension affects 65 percent of people in Malawi who are poor,” added Shaba. “Those who have been involved in looting will be taken to court of low and appropriately condemned. The constitution is clear on this particular aspect.”

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About the author

  • Eva Donelli

    As a correspondent based in Brussels, Eva Donelli covers EU development policy issues and actors, from the EU institutions to the international NGO community. Eva was previously at the United Nations Regional Information Center for Western Europe and in the European Parliament's press office. As a freelance reporter, she has contributed to Italian and international magazines covering a wide range of issues, including EU affairs, development policy, social protection and nuclear energy. She speaks fluent English, French and Spanish in addition to her native Italian.

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