My take: no immunity for the corrupt!

Hon Folks, ACB director Reyneck Matemba was spot on when he said in an interview (The Nation, 25 June, 2018, p7) that foot soldiers in the fight against corruption require the “backing and support” of political leadership.

True! Where corruption has been decisively tackled, it’s the Head of State—not the head of the anti-corruption agency—that leads the fight, ensuring there are no sacred cows and that convicts go to jail.

President John Magufuli has done it in Tanzania. President Paul Kagame did it in Rwanda. Right now Muhammadu Buhari is slowly but surely reaping dividends of leading the battle against corruption in Nigeria. In Botswana, too, nobody is in doubt of the stand of the political leadership on corruption or abuse of power.

But I don’t know if Matemba can vouch for APM’s total support in the fight against corruption in Malawi.   Not when APM, probably holding on to a very narrow definition of corruption, denies the prevalence of rampant corruption in Malawi.

As far as he is concerned, his government has made so much gain in the fight against corruption that it’s now on the decline except in the minds of the media.

I believe the President would see things differently if he accepts that besides being a problem in its own right, corruption is also an enabler of related crimes such as fraud, money laundering and abuse of office. Some of the protocols we are party to include the one for Sadc and AU recognise the fact that too much hair-splitting in as far as corruption is concerned works to the advantage of the corrupt.

Of greater concern to Malawians should be the realisation that even Presidents can develop a sweet tooth for corruption.

Kamuzu Banda, after retiring from active politics, ended up losing legal tussles over properties and other assets he claimed were his when in fact they belonged to the state. How else can that be explained if not by the old saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupt absolutely.”

Bakili Muluzi, Kamuzu’s immediate successor, still has a K1.7 billion corruption case which has stalled for more than a decade. Legal minds believe there’s been lack of lack of political will among his successors to prosecute him, preferring to shield him from the law so they can have the support of his UDF in turn. Sheer political expediency!

The late Bingu wa Mutharika, Muluzi’s immediate successor, raised eyebrows when it was reported that he had amassed K62 billion assets during the eight years he served as president. On assuming office in 2004, he declared assets worth K150 million only.

As for Joyce Banda, Bingu’s immediate successor, it’s only now when she has returned home that the APM government no longer talks about there being a warrant of arrest for her on corruption related charges. While she was abroad for four year, government gave an impression she was implicated in the massive looting of public revenue which came to the fore on her watch in 2013.

The clergy claim that leaders are chosen by God but our post-colonial experience shows that the so-called God-chosen ones are, just like the rest of us, prone to what is generally called “thieving.” Again, if calling the shots in government makes it easier to abuse such powers for personal gains, then the more power a person has, the greater the opportunity for such a person to swindle from government.

It would be naivety of tragic proportions to assume patriotism is what always drives people to rig elections or even sponsor violence in the scramble for political office. In Malawi, political power begets opulence.

Which is why, it indeed makes sense to look again at the laws which guarantee a sitting President immunity from prosecution.  Vice-President Saulos Chilima made such a call recently despite that he too is a beneficiary of such immunity. Later, the call was echoed in Parliament by an MP from Chiradzulu.

The framers of our supreme law no doubt had good reasons for granting the presidency immunity from prosecution. As some legal experts have commented, the aim was to shield the President from legal tussles so that undivided presidential attention could be on the taxing job of running the country.

Obviously the assumption was that a President who is under oath to “preserve and defend” the Constitution and uphold the laws of the land would not wilfully flout the same laws. In reality, the opposite has turned out to be true.

It is a serious act of betrayal to use the highest public office in the land for amassing wealth at the expense of hard-working Malawians who pay tax through the nose. Let’s not forget that even before corruption reached Cashgate proportions, it was estimated to be eroding as much as 30 percent revenue from the public coffers.

With Cashgate, there’s a reason to believe the rate has gone up while donor confidence in public finance management is at rock bottom.  To save our country, there should be no immunity for anyone indulging in corruption, not even the President!

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