More fire against graft, please!

Honourable Folks, the one good thing out of the Mphwiyo tragedy is that, it has helped give corruption in government its deserved place high on public discourse.

A day doesn’t elapse before the media quotes a diplomat or civil society leader talk about corruption as a serious problem in government. The more people talk about it the more President Joyce Banda and her cronies realise they have waffled for much too long on an issue that’s crippled the economy and now threatens the rule of law.

It’s more than 10 years since former Director of Public Prosecutions Fahad Assani estimated that corruption and related vices were costing government about 30 percent of its revenue. Many in government ignored him, thinking it’s way too much of an exaggeration.

That’s what happens in a country where statistics, especially on government’s failures and vices, are hard to come by. Quite understandable that those in government—the culprit—weren’t as excited as the media was with DPP’s estimation of corruption levels. They ignored it.

But they also ignored doing anything about it. Former President Bakili Muluzi parried any criticism of treating graft with kid gloves by saying, again and again, that it’s him who instituted the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB), wondering how that could attest for a weakness in the fight against corruption.

Setting up the ACB was an end in itself, not the means to an end, typical of the half measure system of doing things in government. Somehow, the public was largely forgiving, never putting pressure on the Muluzi administration to do something about the DPP’s concerns.

Here and there media rants against rampant corruption detected in the reckless display of opulence and extravagance by some of Muluzi’s cronies, who could hardly afford a pair of sandals before they assumed positions in government were dismissed as ill-informed and idealistic.

Where in Africa is the politician who starves while in government, some in the civil society opined? It’s as if good governance has two benchmarks: one for the rich West with many years of experience and another for the emerging democracies of Africa.

Somehow, the good records of Botswana and Mauritius were seen as an exception to the rule, not models worth emulating. So Muluzi was applauded when he dished brown envelopes to all and sundry, I am reliably told that even some members of the Judiciary were proud beneficiaries of such splurges.

He won the hearts of many when he could issue a cheque of K10 million at a campaign rally. The cronies lied stating that the money was from his pockets and not even the ACB wondered aloud where it was all coming from.

By the end of the day, Muluzi left us worse off than we had been in 1992, two years before he assumed office despite his campaign promise to eradicate poverty during his 10 year tenure.

When Bingu wa Mutharika assumed office, he championed zero-tolerance for corruption policy and questioned how his predecessor had acquired the magnificent Keza Building and his BCA residence. Right now Muluzi is answering a case of diverting K1.7 billion of public money into his private account.

Yet Mutharika’s holier-than-thou stance on graft turned out to be wool in our eyes when the real purpose was to use it as a weapon with which to give his arch-enemy, Muluzi, a good kick in the teeth. Mutharika himself reportedly amassed over K60 billion—more than a 10th of the entire national budget as at April 2012 when he passed on—after serving for only 8 years as president!

But we are able to raise eyebrows on Mutharika’s wealth just because he declared K150 million assets, mostly tied in land, at the point of assuming office, and this was published. The incumbent, Joyce Banda, first said she could not declare because the law did not require that. Now she says she declared but the law doesn’t require that what she declared be published.

The truth is that, there simply is no enabling law to-date for the asset declaration provision of the Constitution. This is a deliberate political dilly dallying that has been there since the Constitution was rolled out almost 20 years ago!

As I’ve said before, the JB administration was quick to repeal the so-called “bad laws” enacted during the Mutharika administration but laws meant to check on those in government, such as the one on asset declaration and another on access to information are deliberately ignored. The reason is simple. Just like her predecessors, JB is averse to legal instruments that make her and those close to her accountable to the public.

Now that high level corruption has not just spread to the civil service but assassins with loaded guns are ready to defend the bad guys, the Columbia drug-lords style. People have had enough and are demanding action from those entrusted with sovereign authority.

Did you hear Finance Minister Dr. Ken Lipenga talk in Parliament the other day about the need to lift subsidies on public goods and services? That means paying more from our stagnant and miserable wages. But unless government is cleansed of corruption first, we shall end up paying more and more for poorer and poorer quality public goods and services. Our money will only finance the extravagance of the corrupt in government. And their assassins, of course!



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