DPP’s Dalitso Kabambe bumpy trip into politics

By Mallick Mnela

The former central bank governor Dalitso Kabambe is trending. He is officially in the limelight for expressly declaring interest to join active, partisan politics.

His acknowledgment to move into mainstream politics has coincided with the emergence of pictures of him surrounded by cadres donning DPP coumaflaged regalia.

The pictures, for once, triggered memories of former MEC Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah surrrounded by smiling youths in blue. Oops! I digress!

So far, it is becoming evident that the DPP sees him as an imported “joker” likely to turn the tide and help them return to power in the next elections.

Besides, odds often favour central bank governors to be lined up to attempt an ascendancy to the highest office on the land.

John Tembo, who was RBM governor in 1983, attempted to occupy plot number one many times, without success. He however enjoyed political dominance as leader of opposition for years.

Bingu wa Mutharika was also appointed RBM deputy governor between 2001 and 2003 before ascension to ministerial roles then finally becoming the country’s president.

While Kabambe is seen by others as the party’s talisman to usher the DPP back into government, detractors are working hard to expose the other side of him.

For those who dont know Kabambe, he holds a PhD and a Master’s Degree in Development Economics from Imperial College – University of London, United Kingdom which were obtained in 2008 and 2001, respectively.

Kabambe being welcomed to DPP

He also holds a BSc Degree from the University of Malawi, obtained in 1998.

He was appointed Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Governor in April 2017 having worked up the civil service ladder, rung after rung.

Those familiar with the Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will understand that a man who earned a cool K 24 million per month is not motivated by money. Rather, power provides some meaning. Based on Maslow’s theory, we might assume Kabambe is now searching for power (and more money, of course).

However, his emergence on the political scene has several implications including personal, intraparty and inter party.

In the DPP, Kondwani Nankhumwa has a ‘strong contender’. Kabambe is well educated, well versed in managing the country’s fiscus at capital hill and his stint at the central bank gives him authority on many matters of state affairs. He might also be more knowledgeable in fundraising money for managing a political party.

Unfortunately for Kabambe, whether by sheer luck or acumen of the Tonse government intelligence community, they seem to have gotten wind of the DPP’s impending move and initiated a mining expedition to unearth his dirt. They flipped through a few files at the central bank during his tenure and a few stains seem to have been noted.

An audit is ongoing the outcome of which would determine his political future. But so far, it has been revealed that he was earning an obscene K 24 million in a month. This, for a nation with 80% living beyond a dollar per day, is a disadvantage.

Also remember, the Ombudsman faulted the central bank (under Kabambe’s tutelage) for having acted in ultra vires when the RBM donated over K 6.2 billion kwacha towards COVID-19 fight as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) under the DPP regime.

While the CSR argument is worthwhile, the fact that the K 6.2 billion was released via the Governor’s account which is meant for entertainment and hospitality for the Governors’ guests, raises questions on accountability and best practice in corporate governance.

The report by the Ombudsman clearly states that the irregularities (in justifying the release of the funds by the central bank) and the subsequent release of the funds in the run up to fresh elections were suspicious.

The Ombudsman’s report states: “The contribution of this large some of money towards the social cash transfer programme had potential to give the then ruling party (DPP) significant political mileage”.

Not that it suggests anything suspicious yet, but you may be interested to learn that the RBM CSR account released so much money from 2017, the year Kabambe became governor. For example, K210 million was released in 2017. In 2018, only K 54 million was released before jumping to K 264 million in 2019.

Answers regarding how all this money was used will be determined by the audit which will obviate him of any wrongdoing or vindicate the detractors in condemning him as someone untrustworthy.

While these figures may make sense in boardroom politics generally, the release of funds and the determination by the Ombudsman that the CSR funds were susceptible to political manipulation will make the unveiling of Kabambe a little difficult to manage.

It will require political acumen to sway public perception for the DPP and at worst, he may face prosecution/persecution, depending on which side of the argument you belong to.

At an institutional level, the DPP is an institution with a history of financial maladministration, alleged corruption, nepotism and you name it. This is indisputable.

Overall, Kabambe may have a sterling reputation, but it is now becoming clearer that his romance with the DPP started way back – at least based on the anecdotal and statistical evidence emerging. This has a political disadvantage for him personally and the DPP generally.

Also, unveiling him at a time he is being probed may be seen as a good thing that will earn him sympathy as someone being victimised for his intentions to join mainstream politics. But knowledge of his alleged release of funds in a manner seen to confer advantage to the DPP may create an association with the DPP’s not-so-good governance practices.

The mere fact that his decisions as RBM governor may have been made to favour the DPP while serving as central bank governor may prove damaging. His ascendancy to the top may be construed as having been planned long ago.

Even if he is absolved of any wrongdoing in a court of law, tribunal or commission of inquiry, the court of public opinion and political narratives constructed by political competitors will be brutal.

In reputation management, you try as much as possible to shift from a negative trait or traits to more positive ones.

The timing to unveil Kabambe now seems ill-timed, premature and a flop in reputation management.

In the political marketing game, you deal with people’s perceptions. You give them something so much so that they (the people) believe your change is for real.

By bringing Kabambe now, the DPP seem to be making an attempt to reposition yet the culture, people and style remain the same.

Furthermore, the downside is that the dirt being dug at the RBM during Kabambe’s tenure implies a longstanding secret romantic affair that is only going public. It could, however, help project sympathy as if the Tonse government is imposing political persecution.

Beyond persecution, his emulument and remuneration records signify someone bent on self-enrichment. Come to think of it: One person earning K 24 million in a month! With this kind of salary, he would give K 2.4 million in tithe!

For ease of understanding, his salary would be enough for remuneration of 480 workers on a minimum wage pegged at K 50,000 or 240 workers at a tax free bracket earning of K 100, 000!

This cannot be defended by the mere fact that this is the amount agreed in the contractual terms. It smacks of a lack of empathy given the country’s economic position. And this is not a favourable trait for a leader.

Former President Peter Mutharika and his then vice Saulos Chilima parted ways with their earnings to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. This projects true leadership that is empathetic.

But for Kabambe, an increment was effected when the country was cutting budgets in other sectors just that health workers had adequate PPEs, fuel or allowances. This is an area spin doctors in the DPP will need to think of!

We also know the salary of the President is even about 10 percent what Kabambe got as Central Bank Governor.

Beyond the salary issue, you may recall the Ombudsman faulted the RBM (during Kabambe’s leadership) for acting illegally and irregularly in relation to the K 6.2 billion kwacha CSR donation to government.

The DPP revival strategy won’t be easy relying on Kabambe. It needs a team that defies ethnicity, demonstrate servant-leadership, putting people first, leadership defined by moderation and charisma that breeds likability.

If I were consulted to strategise Kabambe’s unveiling in the DPP, I would have first worked on a robust defense of his perceived maladministration at the central bank (beyond: that’s in a binding contract narrative).

I would divorce his ethnicity and project his credentials more. I would design a solid philanthropic endeavor to endear him with many thereby attempt to dilute the attacks based on the obscene salary.

I would not dare unveil him at a time the DPP is riddled with so many legacy scandals linked to allegations of corruption, spendthrift and theft.

The secret in rebuilding the DPP lies in reconfiguration of the party’s culture and introduce people with credibility that is not easily questionable or easy to attack.

And the decision to rope in a “stranger” into the fold of the DPP is not the best in as far as building cohesion and intra party unity is concerned.

The likes of Kondwani Nankhumwa had already started canvassing for the DPP top post. They wont find Kabambe’s coming welcome.

Looking at it from a political point of view more broadly, Kabambe is a strong contender for the presidency given his sterling experience and credentials, thus the opponents will try so hard to amplify his obvious misdemeanors, missteps and discredit his prospective candidature.

Detractors would argue if he failed the laws at RBM (per Ombudsman’s determination (re: Misplaced Priorities report), would he be able to uphold the Republican Constitution? Does he satisfy the requirement of “moral turpitude”?

Given the alleged breach of the RBM Act in relation to the K6.2 billion donation towards COVID-19, he better pray the instituted audit would obviate him of any other wrongs, fiduciary or in relation to corporate governance best practices, that would project him as a misfit for candidature for the country’s highest office.

Anyways, for honesty’s sake, I am jealous of him for earning in a month what I haven’t earned in my entire work lifetime (pension and allowances inclusive). I am inclined to believe he would remunerate himself more obscenely if he were to earn more power. I could be wrong but history shouldn’t be ignored just like that.

Don’t mind me. I am just one jealous fellow!