As expected, Malawi is not making any progress on the ease of doing business with corruption, access to financing and tax rates being the country’s biggest dents. This is according to a new World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report.
While the country needs to improve on these and many other issues such as inadequate supply of infrastructure, inflation and inefficient government bureaucracy, my interest is on corruption where the country is ranked 132 out of 137 economies. Last year, Malawi was ranked 134 out of 138 economies.
That Malawi continues to perform badly on fighting corruption should not be a surprise. In the past four years, the country has slipped eight steps from 112 in 2012 to 120 in 2016 out of 176 economies with a score of 30 on the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) rankings. Ranked lowly, Malawi is among countries that are plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions. Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice they’re often skirted or ignored. People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion, rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take.
As many people have said time without number, Malawi’s poor ranking keeps away potential investors and development partners who use the corruption perception index as a basis for estimating the levels of risks for business and investment in a country.
The lack of progress in the country’s present ranking on ease of doing business does not also come as a surprise. Put simply, there is no political will to fight the vice. The momentum registered in 2013 when over 70 people were arrested for their alleged role in the massive plunder of public resources at Capital Hill has completely evaporated. All there is now is just noise, noise and more noise about fighting corruption with nothing to show for it on the ground. No wonder even after Malawi held the biggest ever investment forums in the past two years, potential investors are still taking a back seat to come and invest in the country because they have lost confidence in government policies.
The problem is that government always wants to wear a political mask. It keeps heaping all the country’s woes on the 2013 Cashgate as if that is the only problem. Everyone knows that the 2013 Cashgate is just a tip of the iceberg. I have said this before and I will not tire to say so.
RSM Risk Assurance Services, a British audit and advisory firm established that apart from the K24 billion, there was a bigger Cashgate spanning 2009 and December 2014 amounting to K236 billion. While there has been remarkable progress on prosecuting cases involving the plunder of K24 billion from the public purse, investigations into the K236 billion Cashgate to establish culprits have been swept under the carpet.
The RSM audit report disclosed that there are businesses linked to families which took part in rampant bid rigging and that 13 files were handed over to the Anti-Corruption Bureau for further investigations. But government is shamelessly looking away. It is this reluctance on the part of government to sustain the momentum shown on the K24 billion cashgate in fighting corruption that has seen the country slipping further on the CPI. The adage khose akakhla pa mkhate sapheka is very true.
This selective justice and procrastination is the cause of the grand abuse of billions of Kwacha for the country’s major local development financing mechanisms for improving the poor’s livelihoods such as the Local Development Fund (LDF), the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and the District Development Fund (DDF) during the past few years.
After shielding culprits of the K236 billion Cashgate, and losing the plot to arraign looters of the LDF, CDF and DDF funds, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is now thieving from cash-strapped parastatals in broad day light. All the while the world and potential investors are watching.