Following calls for the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) independence, President Lazarus Chakwera has said corruption remains an evil that has led to impoverishment and moral decay of citizens; hence, urged Malawians to reject such realities.
But governance and policy analysts say despite amplified rhetoric by authorities to crack down the vice, the rate of corruption in the country has not slowed down.
Speaking in Blantyre yesterday when he led Malawians in commemorating this year’s International Anti-Corruption Day organised by the ACB, the President said building a corruption-free Malawi requires that all act now.
He said: “Each of us has a role to play, whether as private citizens or as representatives of government ministries, departments and agencies [MDAs], the private sector, the youth, the media, traditional leaders, civil society and religious partners.
“That standard demands that as a nation, we must bound together and become an impenetrable firewall against those who wish to sustain the culture and practice of corruption in our midst.”
In an apparent response to some legal, rights and socio-economic groups who earlier expressed dismay over delays by his administration in dealing with corruption, Chakwera said his government has fulfilled its promise to fight corruption by fully funding ACB and making it independent.
He, however, admitted that this in itself is not enough and does not meet the Tonse Alliance’s yardstick on ending corruption as conceived in the fourth pillar of the Super Hi-5 agenda.
The theme for this year’s local conference—Act Now! Fight Corruption for a Better Malawi— was carefully chosen to remind Malawians, especially the youth on the importance of integrity and action as key to fighting corruption.
Said Chakwera: “Act now means each of us doing something to end corruption where we are. Act now means each of us doing something to end corruption as a matter of urgency. Act now means each of us doing something today that prevents corruption tomorrow.
“Act now means each of us identifying and stopping the particular form of corruption we either commit, or delegate, or enable or tolerate. Act now means each of us act now.”
In the June 23 Fresh Presidential Election, the majority of Malawians voted for Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance which mainly campaigned on the platform of ending corruption which was rampant under the previous regime.
Speaking earlier, ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said the bureau has made tangible progress in the fight against corruption, both in the public and private sectors, a move he attributed to a conducive operating environment attained under the current leadership.
He said for five months since the Tonse administration took over, there has been no political interference with ACB operations.
The director general also commended government for increasing the anti-graft body’s funding in the 2020/21 National
Budget by K500 million to K5.2 billion after the allocation was reduced by a whopping K400 million to K3.2 billion in the 2019/20 Budget. Budget by K500 million
He said: “As a result, ACB is slowly also regaining its trust and confidence because Malawians have trust in the leadership that vowed not to shield anyone and guaranteed the independence of the bureau.”
Weighing in on ACB’s crackdown on former Cabinet ministers and senior public officials under the former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), University of Malawi’s Chancellor College dean of law Sunduzwayo Madise said the events reflect on political will which was probably lacking previously.
ACB mostly deals with cases from past regimes and rarely arrests sitting Cabinet ministers, which creates a backlog of cases.
Said Madise: “Even if you look at all arms of government that deal with corruption, you will see that increasingly that is what happens. So it is about political will which comes from the top. If the government in power allows ACB a free hand to do what it wants, then the ACB can.
“But the ACB also needs to be a little bolder to strengthen up. However, the problem we have is still on the appointment of ACB directors and we have to change how they are appointed.”
On his part, Rafiq Hajat, executive director of Institute for Policy interaction (IPI), said the declaration of intent to fight corruption is very clear now but the propensity of government to arrest people without thorough investigations is frustrating.
He said: “In a nutshell, it is too early to say but the new government seems determined. They are fighting a system that has become entrenched and what we have to do is to go back and revise the entire system, seal the loopholes and apply the most draconian measures and ensure that we penalise major outstanding corruption messages. This will send a strong message to all perpetrators.”
Hajat also said systemic errors are countering ACB fight against corruption.
Meanwhile, in a statement released yesterday, United Nations (UN) resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres said corruption impacts the poor the most as it hinders their access to essential services as well as opportunities to prosper.
She said: “Malawi should vigorously deal with the endemic corruption that has potential to ruin efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and undermine democracy and the rule of law.
“A robust and unbiased fight against corruption contributes to reducing inequalities and eradicating poverty.”
The UN then called for increased independence, empowerment and support to institutions such as the ACB and the Ombudsman in order for Malawi to win the fight against corruption.
Du r i n g y e s t e r d a y ’ s commemoration, ACB also unveiled the National Anti- Corruption Strategy II (Nacs II) which has 12 pillars, including the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary as well as other non- State actors such as the media, private sector and traditional leaders.
The strategy was designed to promote good governance and improved service delivery through a coherent and effective approach to fighting corruption from 2019 to 2024. The 12 pillars have targets, strategies and anticipated challenges attached to each of their roles.
Chakwera also commissioned a team of 14 who will serve in the National Integrity Committee to provide leadership and direction to the Nacs II activities, including tracking public expenditure and conducting social accountability programmes.