Is ACB fulfilling its duty?

After Malawi established the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) as a graft busting body, cases of corruption continue and Malawians differ on the progress made so far in tackling the vice.

Some say there has been positive progress while others think the bureau is a political pawn used to fight against political enemies.

Officers of Transparency International (TI) from German office recently organised training for local journalists in investigating and reporting corruption issues.

German-born Birgit Schwarz, an award winning investigative journalist with over 30 years experience in reporting major crises and wars, and TI assistant communications coordinator Sophie Brown led the training.

Acting director for Institute for Policy Research and Policy Development Dr. Henry Chingayipe, who was the guest speaker, gave an in-depth analysis of the trend in the fight against corruption.

“It has been more of tickling donors and tackling opponents,” said Chingayipe, referring to the progress made in fighting corruption so far.

He added that the fight against corruption in Malawi has not helped much to curb the vice.

He cited examples of corruption in form of political financing, which, he said, has almost become “lawful bribery because the law is not clear on it.”

Chingayipe attributes the factors crippling operations of ACB to political and legal limitations.

“Appointments and vacancies have been some of the impediments at ACB. Nobody can do anything if the office of the director is vacant, it was vacant for a long time, just like the office of the deputy director,” he said.

Chingayipe said the requirement for ACB to get consent from Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in order to take a case to court may also jeopardise the works of ACB.

He also touched on the appointment of the bureau director by the President.

“Though the law is impartial, but the practice has shown that the appointee may dance to the wishes of the appointing authority,” Chingayipe said.

He cautioned against failure to differentiate between regime and government interests as a controversial subject.

“We should avoid associating national interests to political ones. National interests are those that are enshrined in the Constitution. If the interests are contrary to the Constitution, then they are regime interests, which are narrow and particularistic,” he said.

He described ACB as a victim of situation, incapacitation and underfunding.

“There are always attempts to incapacitate the ACB, Ombudsman, parliamentary committees, especially when they are tackling issues that are sensitive to government,” he said.

He said, for example, contrary to Commonwealth Parliamentary Practice that constitutional parliamentary committees like Legal Affairs, Budget and Finance, Public Appointments be chaired by an opposition party legislature, here they are in the hands of the ruling party.

Yet “in committee meetings, that is Parliament at work, but in the floor of the House, that is politics at work. In hindsight, we should have included the Committees in the Standing Orders and also Parliament Act.”

“The constitutional committees are supposed to be conventionally chaired by the opposition,” Dr. Chingayipe highlights on the ideal of democracy.

To check on progress,  ACB conducts local surveys and results of the last survey revealed that the public trusts the media more than the bureau itself when it comes to fighting corruption.

However, Transparency International also conducts its own survey, and on some occasions government officials have questioned TIs findings on Malawi’s corruption perception index.

Brown said they welcome the criticism because it means that the people have heard.

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