On 9 December 2020, President Lazarus Chakwera led Malawians in commemorating the International Anti-Corruption Day at Mount Soche, Blantyre.
In his speech at that conference, the president said, “I have carefully followed the deliberations and presentations at this conference, and it is clear to me that we have no shortage of good ideas for making corruption history.
“But talk is cheap. Or to put it more bluntly, when it comes to corruption, our obsession with talking is too expensive. Building a new Malawi free of corruption is what Malawians voted for, and it is a task that calls us to be doers, not talkers”.
In a country that has seen a myriad of corruption scandals since the dawn of the multi-party democracy (talk of cash gate, maize gate, covid funds gate, Chingeni Toll Plaza gate and the current Sattar gate just to mention a few)-these are comforting sentiments.
This conference was patronised by many prominent speakers and covered interesting topics, debates, problem identification, planning and of course, resolutions!
It was not the first and definitely not the last, yet the action part remains conspicuously missing. Malawi seems stuck in a ‘meet, talk about it, identify the problem, come up with resolutions, plan the way forward/sometimes come up with a policy and shelf everything until the next conference’ mode.
Every year the country hosts these big anti-corruption day conferences patronised by high profile politicians making colourful speeches, we recently had the national anti-corruption dialogue in Lilongwe (17-18 November 2021) and have had many significant anti-corruption conferences, ACB corruption awareness months, dialogues and public lectures including the June 2022 meeting patronised by the ACB Director General.
At all these events almost always, the same problems are identified and beautiful resolutions are made which sometimes culminate in strategic plans and policies.
Speaking of policies, the National Anti-Corruption Strategy II (2019-2024) is a comprehensive document that seeks to operationalise government efforts to fight corruption. It comes complete with a 14-member National Integrity Committee to oversee its implementation.
And, it is not alone. The Malawi Vision 2063 also has anti-corruption aspirations and strategies, the MGDS I, II and III all had similar provisions. Even the infamous Malawi Vision 2020 had similar aspirations and strategies.
In addition, all these key policy documents were preceded by lots of meetings, conferences and consultations at which the gaps and loopholes that provide an enabling environment for corruption were identified and beautiful recommendations and resolutions were made.
We have also had many significant audit reports including the one on cash gate by Baker Tilly which reiterate the gaps and loopholes that are there.
The point I am making is that Malawi most definitely does not need another high-powered anti-corruption conference to end its corruption problems. Which is why it was disappointing listening to the President’s address on 31 May 2022 regarding anti-corruption strategies in the wake of the Sattar scandal.
Specifically, He indicated that his government has increased funding to the ACB and ensured that its Director General is housed in a secure home. He also directed that the DG should file a report on the Sattar saga to appraise the president about what is happening.
Other than that, the key response to corruption (the speech devotes more than a page to this issue) will be yet another national anti-corruption conference to be held in July which will bring together government representatives and stakeholders to identify the loopholes and gaps that exist in government and are used for corruption.
Funding for this conference has already been secured. In the words of the president “this will be a platform for having an honest national dialogue about the ways we as a society create an enabling environment for corruption and devise ways of changing it together…”
Pardon me but, we have had enough fruitless conferences and policy documents! We have heard it all! We know what the gaps and problems are!
We know what needs to be done but would rather skirt decisive action and corrupt-proof financial systems in favour of cheap talk and allowance laden conferences. Please Mr President, spare us this conference and just do what needs to be done! n