Seven years of letting the National Anti-Corruption strategy gather dust in the in-tray of implementation has rendered the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) toothless, derailing it to largely handle corruption prosecution and investigations.
In 2008, Malawi established the National Anti-Corruption Strategy that, among others, was expected to introduce reforms that would promote a culture of intolerance to corrupt practices and create an integrity system that would ensure that all sectors adhere to democratic principles of accountability, transparency and effective service delivery, yet Cashgate is evidence of the country’s failure to implement the strategy that was laid down seven years ago to enhance corruption fight.
The eight-pillar strategy saw government appointing an 11-man Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Matthews Chikaonda and National Implementation Steering Committee chaired by Levi Mihowa included the Executive arm of Government, Legislature, Judiciary, the civil service, private sector, media and faith-based organisations.
But Mihowa said in an interview this week, they made their recommendations which they submitted to ACB.
In the nation action plan, the country was to, among others, assess institutional capacity to deal with corruption, develop an institution corruption prevention action plan, develop corruption prevention policies, pass laws on access to information, declaration of assets and political party funding, separate party and State interests and declaration of assets by public officers before assuming office and every year thereafter.
ACB director general Lucas Kondowe, however, said though the strategy will be revisited, the bureau did not deliberately sit on it. He argued that since ACB are not the owners of the strategy, they did their part as one of the players.
In an interview with as the bureau was preparing for the Anti-Corruption Day on December 9 2015, Kondowe said the fight against corruption was multi-faceted and would not be won if it is only left in the hands of ACB.
Kondowe said the bureau, like any other government institution, was facing human and financial challenges and that their main focus was corruption prevention as investigations and prosecution is time involving and costly.
“Prevention of corruption is much efficient than investigations and prosecution. We have limited financial and human resources, but we are trying to deal with corruption within these challenges,” he said.
Kondowe said the fight against corruption is all inclusive and should be tackled from all sectors of the society.
He said the bureau has now embarked on civic education in private and public institutions to advance the understanding of corruption.
He pointed out that people tend to look at corruption in the public sector, but the initiator of corrupt practices in most cases are in the private sector as they are fighting for government businesses.
The National Anti-Corruption Strategy also outlined activities meant to promote integrity, accountability and transparency and also to improve service delivery in all sectors, to promote public involvement in the fight against corruption and intensify prevention of corruption and promotion of integrity in the sectors.
Kondowe said much as some of the activities were carried out, some key points that lead to corruption in Malawi are yet to be tackled, citing declaration of political funding, access to information law, separation of party and State interests.
He observed that ACB receives many complaints almost on daily basis, most of which do not border on corruption; hence, it sieves them, something that is time-consuming.
“The problem [is that] people do not differentiate between corruption, fraud and theft. When we analyses each case then if it is not corruption, we refer it to the relevant government offices,” he said.
Lewis Bande, doctoral researcher at Institute of Criminal Law, University of Leuven, Belgium and a lecturer in Law at University of Malawi observed that the fact that ACB has been, and continues to, receive and process complaints and allegations of corruption, that it has been investigating some of these complaints/allegations, does not mean it has been effectively discharging its mandate.
“ACB has not been effective or efficient in its mandate to fight corruption in Malawi. The ACB has been in existence for nearly 20 years now, and everyone knows that corruption has been worsening throughout that period. There is no better evidence to this than Cashgate itself. What is even horrifying is that the Cashgate is just a tip of the mountainous iceberg that is corruption in the country,” he observed.
Bande said one area where the ACB has been failing is Section 32 of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA), which allows ACB to investigate any public officer where there are reasonable grounds to believe that such public officer maintains a standard of living, or has property, which is disproportionate to his or her known income.
He said: “This is a very important section that, if properly utilised by the ACB, can go a long way to bring corrupt public officers to book. Now, there are many public officers in the country who are maintaining standards of living or have amassed property that is disproportionate to their known incomes.
“What is the ACB doing about it? When was the last time you heard that some public officer is being prosecuted for having property disproportionate to his or her known income? Why didn’t the ACB use this section when the “Cashgaters” were building the mansions, driving expensive cars, sending their children to expensive schools, having millions/billions in their bank accounts, when their known salaries is as low as K100 000 ($169.08)?”
Bande said if ACB was effectively and efficiently enforcing this section, Cashgate scandal would have been busted years ago.
“Most of the “cashgaters” never tried to conceal their wealth, they openly maintained lifestyles that made everyone, except the ACB, suspect that something fishy is going on. Yet, the ACB had failed, and still fails, to utilise the powers that have been given to it by the law to investigate these people, and make them account before courts of law,” he observed.
Bande said Malawi may have the best anti-corruption legislation in the world, the ACB may have all the resources it needs, and there may be the political will to fight corruption, but unless the ACB itself is manned by committed and dedicated personnel, the fight against corruption will amount to nothing.
“You should know that the law in itself does not fight corruption, money and resources do no fight corruption, but committed and dedicated people fight corruption.
ACB deputy director Reyneck Matemba said ACB has been facing challenges using Section 32 of CPA because most accused were challenging it was against the spirit of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“However, the Supreme Court this year ruled out that the section is valid and consistent with the Constitution. We can now start using it,” he said.n