‘Government must honour pro-ACB’ promises’

 

Who will watch the watcher? Recently, President Peter Mutharika put this question to Members of Parliament (MPs) who often demand for accountability from the Executive but keep mum on abuse of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by some legislators. In this interview with JAMES CHAVULA, Mzimba North MP Agness Nyalonje reminds the President to do the right thing.

Nyalonje: Start demonstrating commitment
to accountability

Q

: What do you make of the President’s speech?

A

:In his address, the President touched on a number of issues. I will dwell on democracy and accountability. Allow me to commend the President for recognising the work of parliamentary committees, in particular, the Agriculture Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. On democracy and accountability, the President made two very important and interesting statements. First, the President said: “Accountability is the first principle of democracy”—a profound statement that suggests that without accountability, there can be no democracy. Second, he said: “I have seen many times when MPs represent their parties more than the people.” Under the fundamental principles in our Constitution [Chapter 3, Section 13(o)], the State is mandated “to introduce measures which will guarantee accountability, transparency, personal integrity and financial probity and which by virtue of their effectiveness and visibility will strengthen confidence in public institutions.” Let me also welcome the President’s strong endorsement of the work of the Public Accounts Committee in their oversight role demonstrating the importance of accountability. All this is commendable.

Q

: What more needs to be done?

A

:There is much more work that needs to be done in search of accountability. We need to mount a more robust fight against corruption in this country. At the heart of the fight against corruption, is the independence of the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB]. Sadly, as the stalwart against corruption, the ACB’s independence is challenged by three things. Number one, the ACB lacks adequate resources to effectively carry out its work. Number two, the ACB lacks appropriate political support to investigate and prosecute all suspected cases of corruption and fraud without fear or favour. Number three, the ACB staff are hampered by fear for their safety from persons suspected of corruption. The case of Issa Njauju comes to mind.

Q

: Is there will to liberate the ACB?

A

: Issues of accountability are central to our democracy. I am reminded of the debate that took place in the august House on March 17 2016 that calls into question our collective will to address issues of accountability. In my view, that debate clearly demonstrated MPs putting political party point scoring above the national good and the will of the people of Malawi. The debate in question was on the Private Members’ Bill No. 1 of 2016—Corrupt Practices (Amendment)—put forward by the honourable member of Lilongwe South West [Peter Chakhwantha]. The object of the Bill was to provide for more independence of the ACB by making the appointment of the director and deputy director subject to the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament rather than by the President. This was even in line with the DPP Manifesto of February 2014 which pledged to transfer this authority from the President to a Special Public Appointments Committee. However, the debate, in effect, turned into a political fight between the opposition and the ruling party. If one follows the debate as recorded by the Hansard, the arguments of the ruling party against the Bill, in my view, tried to move the discussion away from the main issue of how to strengthen ACB to deal with corruption in this country. Instead, colleagues on the government benches tried to present the issue as a fight for power and control between the Executive and the Legislature. They basically tried to argue that a parliamentary committee, which is composed of members from all parties, could be just as biased as an individual appointing authority. This is a fake argument! This argument made no sense at that time and it makes no sense now! In the end, the Bill was defeated. However, what has remained with me to this day was the celebration of the government benches in striking down such a sensible Bill that would have demonstrated a commitment by the National Assembly and by the Executive to address corruption.

Q

: Was the jubilation by the DPP legislators justifiable?

A

: When set against the seriousness of intention by the mover of the Bill, the jubilation of winning that vote in this House was misplaced. By shooting down such a crucial accountability Bill, honourable colleagues on the government benches represented their party more than the people of this country.

Q

: What was at stake when the Bill was tabled in the National Assembly?

A

: As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I am painfully aware of the many billions of kwacha that go unaccounted for from government ministries, departments and agencies every year. Through the work of the office of the Auditor General, we know, for example, that from the audit of public accounts of the financial year 2014/2015, K77 billion was unaccounted for. Sadly, the bulk of this unaccounted for money was in the key ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development [which is] responsible for rural water supply and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology which forms the core ministry for developing the youth of this country.

Q

: What do you love to see when it comes to democracy and accountability?

A

: I would request that the President continues to pursue the concepts of accountability and the placement of national needs above party interests and special interest groups. We are all aware of the disparities that exist in development allocation in different parts of this country. Development has a tendency to follow political and special interests rather than need. Nowhere is this more apparent than in my own constituency of Mzimba North where the majority of people do not have access to safe water; where the roads are in a sorry state; where schools are dilapidated; where very few people can access healthcare to within eight kilometres; where telephone network and radio signals are limited; and where a lot of youth are unemployed! The lack of money for grassroots development is directly linked to the plunder of billions of kwacha through unchecked corruption in the public sector. A good place for the President to start demonstrating his commitment to accountability would be to revisit the issue of the independence of the Anti-Corruption Bureau as outlined in the DPP Manifesto of 2014, and for which there is great support by all parties on the opposition side in the National Assembly, as already demonstrated by support of the Bill proposed by MP for Lilongwe South West.

 

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