Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general Lucas Kondowe on Thursday left the graft-busting body after serving his three-year term. He took charge of ACB at a turbulent period where investigations and prosecution of Cashgate cases nearly ground to a halt. Our assistant bureau chief in Lilongwe SUZGO KHUNGA caught up with Kondowe to share his experience as head of the bureau. Excerpts:
Thank you for granting us this interview. Of course the first question has to be, why are you not renewing your contract at ACB?
When I came to ACB, I came from the private sector and leaving private sector to join public service was a sacrifice for me, the reason I did that was purely because of my love for my country. I thought I should take up the job not because of the financial rewards that were available but to try to make a difference, to step up and not be one of those that sit up and criticise, but to be part of the solution. It’s not an easy job, you deal with different stakeholders. I came in, I have run my tenure and I think I have concluded that I have largely done what I wanted to do and at this point in time, it is time for me to move on.
Is it not that the appointing authority has decided not to renew your contract?
No, it’s me making the decision. You should remember the way I was appointed. The President appoints the person seeking this office and Parliament approves. Even the removal is done the same way. So, the issue you are raising does not arise at all.
As you are leaving office, what has been the success and performance of your tenure in the three years you have headed the ACB?
I think the successes have been enormous. I know people say a lot of things but if you are fair minded, non-partisan and reasonably minded, the achievements under my tenure are as clear as day and night. I don’t have to sit here and mention each and every achievement that we have achieved.
What was your biggest challenge in fighting corruption in this country?
The challenges are enormous, financial and human resource. As a country, our budget envelope is limited and the amount of money that the government generates as tax and non-tax income is at most K750 billion and you know that the budget for the government runs in the trillion so there is a huge gap. As much as the government tries their best to give us resources they still fall short. We wish we had more and ask for more but whatever additional resources our institution gets, that money has to be taken away from health, education or agriculture where it’s equally important.
The other challenge is that there is lack of understanding from our stakeholders. You see, Malawi is a democratic country not a dictatorship. If ACB was operating under a dictatorship then maybe we could have achieved more in terms of expectations of most people. But in a democracy, the ACB has to operate within acceptable laws that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes this can be a lengthy process.
To what extent has the country’s political environment helped or hindered you from fighting corruption, by that I mean pressure from the Executive to coerce you into taking certain actions?
Without fear of contradiction, I have had pressure from many stakeholders but unlike what most people believe that the ACB director general gets pressure from the Executive, but I would be lying because most of the pressure I have seen has come from other stakeholders.
From the media, the general public and international community. If it wasn’t for the support of His Excellency Peter Mutharika I would not have finished my tenure of office.
What do you consider as your legacy at the bureau?
If you look at what we have done under my tenure, I don’t believe that anybody can say that as a bureau, we went for them for political reasons. Nobody, I challenge you. We have been professional, we have not looked at party colours, we have been independent and politics has not guided what we have done but the rule of law.
Are you leaving a happy person, having achieved what you had set out to achieve when you were joining the bureau?
I am leaving very happy and I am optimistic. Democracy in Malawi is fairly new and I think we are making progress. There are so many challenges and the single biggest challenge I see is the untamed increase in population. I am hoping that the government will take that as priority. Some of the things that we take as corruption is a result of pressure on the little resources that the country has.
The population growth is so huge, outstripping the economic growth. The gap between the resources needed to support the bigger population and what the economy can generate is becoming wider and wider. If this continues, we will reach a point where there will be a crisis and potential for civil strife. I am not saying there is no corruption, it is there. But let’s look at the root cause of some of these problems. We are now at a situation where there is a scramble for resources and this can cause people to do what they have to do to have a share.
One of your directors died under mysterious circumstances, Mr Njauju? Do you have regrets?
Yes, Mr Njauju’s death was very shocking to all of us. Up to now we do not understand under what circumstances Mr Njauju was murdered. He was a nice gentleman, he was never at all involved in any way, form or shape in investigations. It bothers us, it shook us as an institution.
What issues remain unresolved as you leave office?
I am leaving when this issue [Njauju’s death] remains unresolved, I do hope and pray that it will be resolved. We have read in the papers that the British government will send in some people to put the pieces together, I hope that happens soon. But Njauju’s death was tragic, it shook us, it shook me and taught us that we should not take for granted security of personnel at such institutions.
Some sections of society have accused you of sitting on high-profile cases. The Richard Makondi case comes to mind, the Bakili Muluzi case has gone nowhere in the three years you have been at ACB and there is the individual who obtained a permanent injunction against an ACB arrest. What do you have to say about these issues?
Malawi is a democracy and there are processes that unfortunately we are all subject to and we have to follow these. Even the accused persons have got rights to appeal, seek injunctions under the law and I cannot take that away from them. The accused persons have rights under the law and they are using these. Unless Malawians want a dictatorship then it is going to be easy. The other cases that you referred to are in the Supreme Court and we have no control over that. As an institution, we will argue when it gets to court. On the Makondi case, we have done our part and are waiting for the court. It is not possible for a single person like a director general to influence these processes. Even the powers of the director general are limited, those accusing me of that are saying it out of ignorance.
When you entered office, you found Cashgate cases and there has been progress under your investigations and prosecution teams. Would you say you are leaving ACB at a point that it is winning in the cases?
We are winning to a large extent but to win, there is need for participation from many stakeholders. We need to make sure that as a country, the financial management systems are robust, we need to make sure that we put the right people with the right skills in different key positions. We need to make sure that as a country we have good and robust internal controls and we need to make sure that people are ethical in government. We know progress is being made in the financial management systems but there is still so much that needs to happen.
There is still a lot of pressure on the so-called 13 files that came out of the K236 billion forensic audit report. What progress has been made?
A lot of progress has been made, very soon a report will be submitted to the Auditor General. We have already had some initial discussions with Public Accounts Committee of Parliament so they are aware of some of the progress. We had a meeting with the Attorney General, Auditor General and we gave them a verbal update, but very soon a formal report will be submitted.
Will this formal report contain progress in terms of investigations completed and prosecution about to start?
I know that so far most of those files have been completed in terms of following up the issues and I think the report will cover that.
What is your advice to the incoming director general or to the government to make ACB’s work a success?
It’s a difficult question. When I came in, there had been predecessors and I made it a point to meet some of them to seek their wisdom and knowledge. It’s entirely up to the next director general if he sees the need to speak to me and others that came before me, I would be very willing to share with him or her my experiences and support to be successful.
So where do you go from here?
I don’t know. What I know is that I am taking a break and maybe sometime early next year or late this year, I have to reflect and decide where else I will be going and what I will be doing.
Is there a possibility you can go back to the private sector?
You never know, it is possible. I could go back to private sector, I could remain in public service in a different capacity, I don’t know. But I think there are a lot of opportunities out there which I will be looking at as soon as my break is done.
Anything you would like to say as your concluding remarks?
I want to thank the citizens of this country, I want to thank the media, I want to thank the international community, I want to thank the government, especially His Excellency Arthur Peter Mutharika for the amazing support that all these people gave me during my tenure.
I know that we did not always agree, did not always understand each other and I know that sometimes there was breakdown in communication, there was criticism, I know that there were insults but I believe in the right of people to express themselves whether factual or opinions. That is the beauty of democracy. I know all this is not out of malice but good intentions which is to wish this country to do well so I take all those not personally. I am grateful to have served the people of Malawi, I hope I did a good job. I did my best and I am glad that I had this opportunity and I am leaving a very happy man.