ACB biting off more than it can chew

At last check, Malawi was rated among the countries with the highest levels of corruption. Now, it might have taken a whole three day conference for some sectors in society to discuss what constitutes corruption, but the matter of fact is the vice exists.

The rampant looting that occurred in 2013 where it later transpired that it was deeply entrenched from as far back as 2009 has resulted in the country’s corruption rating becoming even worse.

Just imagine that in 2017, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) rating as measured by Transparency International (TI) had plummeted to 122 from 110 in 2014.

Not that the rating was any better before Cashgate, but whatever efforts if any have been there to fight corruption in this country have come to nought.

It would take more than three days just to dissect what it is that has been going wrong, it is too much to count. But for sure, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) biting off more than it can chew comes to mind.

Just this week, ACB disclosed that it had received 67 files in connection to the K236 billion forensic audit covering the period 2009 to 2014. All this before the corruption cases following the K23 billion forensic audit are concluded.

Added to this, ACB is embarking on investigations into how the government planned to corruptly share K4 billion among some 86 members of Parliament (MPs) for voting favourably on the electoral reforms bills.

Apart from the 67 files and looking into the K4 billion mysterious deal, the same ACB is grappling with thwarting attempts by the former president Bakili Muluzi to escape prosecution, or at the very least delay the inevitable until kingdom come.

This is the same ACB that should be investigating the billions that former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika held in local and international banks amounting to K34.9 billion but also real estates which according to ACB investigations and information sourced from estate valuers is worth K37.2 billion.

It is this case that the Director of Public Officers Declarations is banking on to investigate unexplainable accumulation of wealth by public servants and possibly prosecute those who might have corruptly obtained money and property.

Much as many would like ACB to effectively fight corruption, investigate and prosecute those suspected to have fraudulently acquired money and property, this is not possible when the more work piles up on the ACB desk, the less investigators and prosecutors the office seems to have to tackle the work.

ACB is being too modest to claim that it tries its best to work to the maximum capacity with the limited number of staff, it’s just not possible.

The donors, the government and even ACB itself would like to ‘try its best’ but without investment and deliberate mechanisms to increase personnel, this remains a wish.

There is no point on embarking on investigations when years will go by before arrests and prosecution can be effected.

It should be unacceptable that corruption investigations involving ‘fat cats’ in the country get special attention and not those where a few millions were looted from the government purse.

The result of ignoring low level corruption is there for all to see: Cashgate. Government officials had the audacity to introduce recipients of government resources into the public finance system when they had delivered zero services.

The problem of turning a blind eye to corrupt activities eight years ago millions went into the accounts of mere clerks  was the 2013 Cashgate when ordinary citizens would cash cheques worth billions knowing well ACB had no capacity to catch them.

If ACB had the capacity, the civil servants embroiled in the payroll fraud and the officials at Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development who shared allowances for over 1 000 days in a year would be in jail right now and the extent of Cashgate would not have been so shocking.

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