Thursday, 7 June 2012

Ken Lipenga- Government PR Gaffe with 2012/13 National Budget or a blessing for Malawi?

Malawi’s Finance Minister Dr Ken Lipenga today, Friday, June 8th, presents to parliament government’s financial plan for the year 2012/13, amid calls for his resignation. This follows his own revelation that the former government led by the DPP lied to the nation by presenting to parliament budget figures that were aimed at deceiving the country that the former government’s 2011/12 Zero Deficit Budget was a success.

The Ministry of Finance and the Malawi Revenue Authority conspired that the latter borrow money from banks to make up for tax under collection and create the impression that all was well with government coffers.

Ken Lipenga was Minister of Finance, a post he still holds, when these transactions were being effected but he claims all this was done behind his back, hence cannot resign as demanded by some sectors.

That Ken Lipenga is guilty or innocent in this is not yet known. What is known and cannot be disputed, though, is that his credibility as Minister of Finance has been severely battered.

Today’s budget’s statement in parliament therefore is likely to attract  mixed reactions from Malawians, with hoards of them hitting on the credibility of the man behind the figures government will be proposing to work with for the next 12 months.

By maintaining Ken Lipenga as Finance Minister despite the MRA scandal, President Joyce Banda has gravely compromised the acceptability of the figures that her government will be laying before law makers in Lilongwe today. Government should not cry foul when different sectors start questioning its credibility sooner than they should have done.

However, from a different perspective, maintaining Lipenga as Finance Minister could be a blessing in disguise.

Due to the MRA scandal, parliamentarians are likely to rigorously scrutinize the proposed financial plan. Any grey areas noted in the budget are likely to be followed through and the minister forced to bring concrete and sensible explanations to the house. And aware of the discontent with Ken for his role, real or perceived, in the MRA scandal, government is likely to comply with demands for thorough investigations into any allegations of suspicious transactions by the state or any of its agencies.This could be the end of an era when government gets away with anything with ease. Maintaining Ken as Finance Minister could, therefore, be a blessing for Malawi as this ushers the country into a new era in terms of government accountability and the role of parliamentarians.

However, we will have to wait, probably until the end of the current parliament sitting, to ascertain whether maintaining Ken as Finance Minister was good for Malawi.

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