Hon. Folks, what should we expect in the aftermath of the National Anti-Corruption Conference held in Lilongwe last week?
Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu said the conference was meant to solicit views of various stakeholders as government seeks to review the Corrupt Practices Act, 1995 and the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, 2008.
Which begs the question: does the problem lie in the wording of the law and the strategy? Put differently, can the re-wording of the law and strategy reverse our losses in the fight against corruption?
What is obvious is that “scooping and polishing” of such instruments is the easier thing to do but there is wisdom in the saying that a bad carpenter quarrels with his tools. The real problem in the fight against corruption just might be lack of political will.
Frankly, that is my take. Unless APM, not Tembenu, sees corruption for what it is—a vice that has rocked government from head to toe, exacting a toll on public revenue at no less than the 30 percent tax rate—and make a commitment to fight it not the Jacob Zuma but the John Magufuli or Paul Kagame style, we are doomed even if the law and strategy are polished to a gem-like point.
Sadly, when he spoke at the conference last Friday, APM was in denial.
According to him, the only link between his government and Cashgate was through the unsubstantiated allegations that seven Cabinet ministers were implicated. As long as there is no evidence to that effect, he only smells the Cashgate stench in the previous JB government.
Likewise, the mere fact that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) could go and search both the office and house of George Chaponda is to APM, proof that despite him and a minister in his government amassing powers to hire, fire and give policy direction, ACB still has enough professional space to do its work without let or hindrance.
Interestingly, when he addressed the anti-graft conference, APM went to the extent of citing other public watchdog institutions that, together with ACB, are meant to check pilferage in government. The intended take-home message being that the APM government has even taken a multi-pronged approach to the fight against corruption.
Simply put, APM wants to make us believe that the corruption eroding the reputation of his government is in perception, not reality.
That kind of denial, though irritating is familiar. Bingu wa Mutharika of the zero-tolerance for corruption fame used to accuse the media of lacking patriotism by portraying his government as corrupt. It is only after his death that we learned he, himself, had amassed wealth valued at over K61 billion in the eight years he was in government.
Bakili Muluzi used to vilify the media and the opposition at public rallies for what he termed unsubstantiated claims of corruption. It is only after failing to secure longevity of tenure that the country learned that he had a K1.7 billion corruption case on his head!
Does APM genuinely believe his government is clean or, like his predecessors, he fears exposing skeletons in the cupboard? Whatever institutions the President can point at, they have been there all along. Whatever, statutory or strategic instruments he can point at, not a single one of them was created by his government.
Yet, while APM is on denial, a forensic audit already established that from 2009 to 2014 (a term shared by Bingu 2009 to 2012 and JB 2012 up to December 2014) a total of K236 billion of public revenue was lost to Cashgate.
On the other hand, Transparency International’s Perception of Corruption Index (PCI) for 2016 shows that corruption is getting worse with time.
Again, while on APM’s watch, donors started channelling much of their development and relief aid through non-governmental organisations, arguing that government’s Account Number 1 was like a “leaking bucket.” Which other functioning democracy in Africa is subjected to such kind of humiliation?
Yet, in our case that came in the heels of another donor decision to stop giving government direct budgetary support which constituted up to 40 percent of the recurrent budget.