Governance and accountability institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the Financial Intelligence Authority, the Ombudsman, the Malawi Human Rights Commission, the Judiciary and others, are critical for justice delivery, safeguarding people’s rights and freedoms, public resources, among others. But their work will not bear fruit if some public institutions remain sacred cows, beyond reproach and no-go zones for scrutiny.
My hypothesis is that for a very long time the big thieves in the multiparty dispensation sheepishly bludgeoned everyone into the stupid thinking that no one should poke his nose into security institutions through audits as doing so would compromise the country’s security. As a result, the Malawi Police Service (MPS), the Malawi Defence Force (MDF), Malawi Prisons, National Intelligence Service, etc., became no-go zones for anything that had the semblance of subjecting them to checks or scrutiny.
But the undoing of this arrangement on these entities is that instead of protecting them from the purported vultures, their ring-fencing was ironically giving political leaders and heads of these institutions the devil-may-care-I-will-do-what-I-want-and-no-one-can-stop-me spirit. This is the single most important reason that has bred and nurtured theft with reckless abandon in these entities.
But you will agree with me that nowhere in the world do top leaders steal alone. Even in the village set up rain does not fall on the chief’s garden alone. At the very minimum, gardens around the chief’s farm get showers. However, eventually, when the errand boys master the art, they can go round the bwana and start to steal without his or her knowledge. And because the bwana is compromised, he loses the moral campus from which to arraign his subjects.
So no one will convince me that when between 2017 and 2021 Zuneth Sattar’s five firms got contracts worth $150 million mostly from MPS and MDF, etc., the big men were at all the material time uninformed about the developments. The Minister of Finance may not sign cheques but he or she being the President’s political head and eyes at Treasury will be fully aware of and nod to any huge payment the entity makes to a supplier, pseudo or real. The minister will have failed in his duties if he or she does not appraise the tenant at Plot Number One any huge payment made. In fact he or she will be doing so at his or her own peril.
This is why, all said, if Fahad Assani, former director of the public procurements (DPP), were to peep into the public coffers, he would undoubtedly revise the figure for the amount of resources from the national budget that go down the drain unaccounted for.
In 2001, shocked by the huge amounts of resources from the public purse that were being lost through fraud, corruption and all manner of malfeasance, Assani conservatively estimated that as much as a third of the national budget was ending up in people’s pockets. And no one was being held to account.
If Assani were to revise that figure today, probably he would escalate it to anywhere in the range of 45 to 50 percent. In 2001, we didn’t have big thieves who could corrupt everyone that mattered in a ministry, department and agency (MDA) and walk away with our billions as today’s thieves are doing. This is a new breed of thieves. That is why the biggest case in terms of money involved from the early 2000s is the Muluzi corruption case which is for K1.7 billion. But today’s thieves steal in tens of billions of Kwacha despite having all the governance and accountability institutions. The thieves are the new breeds who have mastered the art of stealing from Account Number One. They know how to get anybody along the way to help them steal our money.
As long as some MDAs cannot be subjected to scrutiny, for whatever reason, we should stop hallucinating with the illusion that the billions of taxpayer money poured in those institutions year in year out is safe. The journey to Canaan was never meant to be rosy. But for Malawi the problems in this journey are self-inflicting.