On K1.6bn stadia pledge

By Cosmas Steven Mvula

Tongues are wagging about President Peter Mutharika’s eagerness to construct stadia for Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers.

Two weeks ago, it pleased him to affirm his electoral promises to the two football clubs and their supporters.

Politically, it is obvious that Mutharika is targeting the crowds that support the two soccer archrivals.

Chances are high that the President, whose victory in the May 21 presidential elections is being questioned in the Constitutional Court, garnered several votes from the stadia promise.

FAM president Nyamilandu and Mutharika

However, this remains a contentious issue. The debate has risen to a new high since the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha presented the National Budget in Parliament last week.

Some circles have valid reasons for applauding the use of public funds to construct stadia for private teams, but the majority says no to this.

It is no secret that both teams are private entities that successfully finalised their commercialisation process. In simplest terms, the teams are now being headed by professionals in all the fields. They are remunerated to make big decisions, including how to build their home grounds.

In their commercialisation agreements, their Japanese sponsors promised to construct stadia for these clubs.

Therefore, it is a surprise that the President seems determined to build the stadia without regard for the commitments made by the companies that own the two clubs.

What clandestine arrangement is there between the President and the sponsors of these clubs?

Secondly, the two crowdpullers have supporters that are able and willing to contribute funds for the construction of their team’s stadium. I support Bullets and I cannot reject a chance to contribute towards the construction of a stadium for the team that I am proud of.

The only worry supporters have is the gross financial mismanagement. No single supporter will smilingly contribute an amount likely to go into somebody’s pocket.

Save for financial mismanagement, the two teams have the ability to construct their infrastructure, including stadia, without stressing government and taxpayers.

Here is simple arithmetic: If two million supporters contributed K1 000 each, a team will earn up to K2 billion—which is more than the K1.6 billion the government has allocated for the two controversial stadia in the proposed budget being scrutinised by Parliament.

And there are many supporters who may contribute more for the good cause if the clubs took necessary steps to restore its public confidence in the way they handle money. Their top officials should strive to give us a feeling that our money will be in safe hands.

Actually, there are many State-owned clubs without necessary infrastructure, including stadia. The case in point are Malawi Defence Force (MDF) teams—Kamuzu Barracks and Moyale Barracks. Why then are we splashing taxpayers’ money on private infrastructure?

Lest we forget, we live in a country where basic needs are either non-existent or in short supply. This includes shortage of school blocks, health facilities, essential medicines, good roads, food and safe water. Why should we sponsor privately owned clubs using scarce resources that can help plug the hole in public service provision?

I doubt if the heads of the two teams’ supporters committees have any conscience.

The committees, through their chairpersons, have threatened to hold vigils against the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) which has voiced its concerns against the stadia project.

There is no sense for a starving landlord to buy tenants some settees for being a good tenant.

Therefore, the use of taxpayers’ money to sponsor Mutharika’s pledge to construct stadia for the two soccer clubs  signify misplaced priorities and selfish interests of people who claim to love our country.