Controversy about the purchase of a presidential jet and recriminations over transparency overshadowed a meeting in Bamako on Thursday between the Malian government and international aid donors.
The conference was called a year to the day after a massive $4.1bn (£2.4bn) was pledged to Mali by 55 countries and institutions. It took place as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has granted the country a phased three-year extended credit facility worth $23m, demanded explanations regarding the acquisition of a Boeing 737 costing about $40m.
In a robust speech aimed at deflecting donor criticism, Mali's prime minister, Moussa Mara, called for more transparency from the country's partners. He confirmed that $1.2bn of the pledged money had been spent. But he complained that only about a third of that amount had been channelled through government ministries and just $280m had gone directly into the treasury.
Mara told donors gathered at Bamako's international conference centre: "For the sake of the transparency you are all attached to, we demand that the concerned partners inform us of the use of the money and its impact. We want the remaining money to be used in a way that is totally traceable."
Mara, 39, appointed in a cabinet reshuffle last month, Mara, was responding to a passionate speech by Annick Girardin, the French secretary of state for development. Girardin insisted "the Brussels conference was not only about economics, it was deeply political" and had committed Mali to profound institutional reform.
MDG : Mali president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita arrives with his new airplane at Conakry airport Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, whose acquisition of a private jet has raised questions among donors, at Conakry airport.
She said: "Parliament must deal with the social and economic development of the country. It must also – and I am thinking in particular of the fight against corruption and justice reform – [accept that] these are areas where vigorous measures are expected.''
In a direct reference to the presidential plane, she added: "I am thinking also of financial and economic management – an area where the Malian government must respond to legitimate questions raised by international institutions."
The scandal surrounding the purchase of the Boeing 737 in April is likely to be at the forefront of donors' thoughts in forthcoming weeks as they decide how to reconfigure aid and loan payments to serve more effectively the needs of 14 million people living in one of the world's poorest countries.
The swiftness with which the multimillion-euro French-led military operation ousted the core of Islamists occupying northern Mali last year has been matched only by the alacrity with which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's government – elected by a landslide in August 2013 – appears to have revived some of the poor governance practices that opened the door to extremism in the first place: nepotism, high-living, lack of accountability, political aloofness and what the IMF sees as "threats to the integrity of the budgetary process".
Most of the pledged money has been spent through established international aid organisations that have revived existing programmes, targeting Mali's longstanding shortfalls in sanitation, health, education and food security. But continuing security fears in the underdeveloped north, where the government has failed to initiate meaningful peace talks with rebel groups, mean much aid is still spent in the south of Mali, which was never occupied. At least a quarter of a million northerners are still displaced or living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
For months after he came to power in an EU-funded election, diplomats gave Keïta and his government the benefit of the doubt. Wary of being accused of colonial-style heavy-handedness, they tolerated his seemingly endless round of expensive foreign trips, his failure to travel to the far north of his own country, the lack of regular broadcasts to the crisis-bound nation, and an initial round of political appointments that included his son and three members of his wife's family.
Hints were dropped by visiting ministers, especially those from France, and by the UN security council. But the international silence has proved dangerous. Malians are beginning to believe in a conspiracy theory – never dismissed by Keïta – that suggests greedy "foreign powers" have secret information about massive oil and mineral wealth in the north of Mali and are siding with secessionist rebels.
Finally, last month, on the sidelines of the Rwandan genocide commemorations, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon took Keïta to task about his failure to hold talks with northern armed groups. But when Keïta returned from Kigali on 9 April, his new plane had been delivered. A tour of the aircraft at Sénou airport followed, and international pressure for more rigour, accountability, peace talks and general leadership was, it would seem, a distant memory.
It has taken until now for the IMF to shame Keïta's government by demanding an explanation for the purchase of the aircraft. "I learned about the plane by reading the local media,'' said Op de Beke, a senior economist at the IMF. "It had not been mentioned by the government when our team carried out its review in March.''
Since the purchase of the jet was never put to parliament, little is known about it beyond airport staff observations that it arrived with an Arab-speaking crew. Mara claims it cost $40m; the presidency says $34m. The biggest question surrounds whether Keïta needs a new plane; Mali already has one, which ferried his predecessor, the interim president Dioncounda Traoré.
De Beke says the IMF has also asked for explanations about a state guarantee of $200m given for defence procurement. Again, details of what the amount was or will be spent on – and whether aid money has been part of the guarantee – are subject to speculation. But the Malian army was recently, and somewhat mysteriously, rekitted in new uniforms, boots and hats, and given a new logo.
Ordinary Malians are not about to take to the streets, however. The middle classes have been tweeting frantically to decry the jet, but 80% of Malians are illiterate. In the election, they voted for "IBK", as he is called, because religious leaders told them to do so. Most like their president, and are from the south; the security situation at the time of the election left thousands of displaced northerners without voting cards.
Now that the conference is over, many donor chiefs – including European development commissioner Andris Piebalgs – are staying on in Mali to visit projects they are funding. They must decide how and if they are to release a remaining $140m in direct budget support to Mali's treasury. And they must insist that Mali moves swiftly to incorporate more checks and balances in its own government processes, so that the national budget cannot be treated as petty cash.