Respondents to a Nation Publications Limited (NPL) survey have poorly rated the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the fight against graft, with 88 percent suggesting the body is failing to effectively stem out corruption in the country.
While conceding the poor perception, the ACB has attributed the low rating to the handling of the K2.8 billion Malawi Police Service (MPS) food rations contract where the supplier, Pioneer Investments, made a claim of an additional K466 million and deposited K145 million in a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) account at Standard Bank whose sole signatory is President Peter Mutharika, a day after getting the contract payment.
The ACB cleared the President, but three weeks ago arrested owner of Pioneer Investments and two senior police officers in connection with the excess claim of K466 million.
To gauge public perception on the status of the ACB’s fight against graft and the levels of confidence they have in the body, The Nation sampled 129 respondents in the survey conducted through NPL digital platforms, notably Facebook and Twitter, as well as phone calls.
Respondents were requested to indicate their levels of confidence in ACB’s ability to fairly, independently and objectively fight corruption in the country. The same question was asked by our sister newspaper, Nation on Sunday, in a similar survey in 2016 and 90 out of every 100 respondents gave ACB poor rating.
In the Facebook and Twitter poll, the respondents were asked to respond by indicating their level of confidence in a multiple choice format of (a). Very high, (b). High, (c). Low, (d). Very low and (e). Don’t know.
There were 39 respondents called by phone, comprising 16 from the private sector, seven civil society organisation (CSO) leaders, eight traditional leaders, five from the academia and three from political parties represented in Parliament. In this survey, 95 percent gave ACB a vote of no confidence, faulting the country’s legal framework which gives power to the President to appoint the bureau’s director general.
On Twitter, out of 61 respondents, only one rated the ACB highly, indicating success in fighting corruption in the country.
On the other hand, on Facebook, out of 39 respondents, 82 percent rated the graft-busting body poorly while 18 percent rated the ACB highly in its ability to fairly, independently and objectively fight corruption in the country. Yet others refused to rate the bureau, saying it cannot be rated.
In one of the responses, Tawonga Kasomekera said on Twitter: “ACB is the most shameful body ever even Satan will spit it out of hell because it’s evil is for the next level when a new world order takes control. I can’t even rate them.”
In his response through the phone on Tuesday, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) spokesperson Father Peter Mulomole observed that there is political interference in the operations of ACB.
He said: “The problem is that the Executive is everywhere. There should be enough separation of powers between the Judiciary, Executive and Legislature..”
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national coordinator Boniface Chibwana observed that many believe that the ACB is politically compromised.
He said: “There is need for the review of the Corrupt Practices Act [CPA] if the country is to be seen to genuinely fight corruption. Nothing much has been achieved to point at.”
Mzuzu-based Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka branded the ACB a “struggling institution” due to underfunding in comparison to the levels of work at the bureau.
He also blamed the legal provision empowering the President to appoint the ACB director general as worsening the perception.
Kajoloweka noted that even after the amendment of the CPA, the President remains the appointing authority, thereby defeating the spirit of independence of the ACB.
The Story Workshop executive director Kent Mphepo acknowledged that the ACB has qualified personnel of integrity who are experts in doing their work, but said the stumbling block is lack of independence.
In his response, Chancellor College political analyst Mustafa Hussein noted that the ACB is good at prosecuting petty corruption cases and not those involving big fishes.
But reacting to survey, ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said whatever explanation the bureau can give would not change people’s perceptions about its efforts to fight corruption in the country.
He said people are giving the bureau a vote of no confidence because of the decision to clear the President in the MPS food rations deal.
Matemba said: “I know that even though we have made tremendous progress in as far as fighting against corruption is concerned, we are also aware that all those efforts were eroded because of one single case, the Pioneer Investments-Malawi Police Service one.
“But again, for those people who question me or the bureau that where did I get the authority to clear the President, whatever I did is backed by the law. The moment you find that you don’t have evidence, the bureau has power to clear that person.
“In fact, the bureau cleared both the President and the Vice-President in various suspected cases of corruption… Why did they [people] only pick on the President? For us, it clearly shows that the issue was not the bureau, but it was political.”
On the general perception that the bureau shields governing party members, Matemba said: “With respect to cases that we have against politicians at the bureau, all of the cases that we are prosecuting, the people that we arrested, belong to the ruling party. None of them is an opposition politician. That alone should show that we don’t favour government.”
He said some donors and cooperating partners, including the Millennium Challenge Corporation, are able to appreciate the efforts that the ACB and Malawi are putting in place to fight against corruption.
In May 2017, a survey conducted by pan-African research network Afrobarometer indicated that corruption in the country had increased over the years.
In July this year, our sister paper newspaper, Weekend Nation revealed that the fight against corruption was not being won as Capital Hill either cuts funding to key institutions or delays to activate tools designated to strengthens the key institution that fight corruption. The analysis showed that ACB was the worst hit in funding with a 12 percent cut in nominal terms since 2014/15 fiscal year.
The bureau’s funding has been reduced to K938 million this fiscal year from a five-year high of K2.4 billion in 2016/17.
According to 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International, Malawi is ranked at 122 from 120 in 2016.