- Inmates expected to pay bribes to access services
Some presidential pardons touted to be granted for good conduct are corruptly obtained. This is what is coming out clearly from the findings of an Inspestorate of Prisons Report which found that bribery of Prisons, Judiciary and Police officers is rampant.
The report also found that torture and disregard of the law are robbing inmates of their rights and crippling the justice delivery system.
The report submitted to Parliament through the Ministry of Home Affairs, mentions court clerks, police prosecutors and prison officers as chief culprits.
The Judiciary said it is aware of corruption among its officials and that the culprits are being disciplined but spokesperson for the Malawi Police Service declined to comment on the report, saying they have not seen it.
On their part, the Malawi Prisons Service did not respond to our questionnaire sent last week.
At stake are the rights of prisoners who, according to the report, are expected to pay bribes to access services that are otherwise free such as release orders, sentence reductions and consideration for presidential pardons.
Every Christmas festive season and Republic celebration, the President pardons scores of prisoners based on recommendations from a committee comprising prison officers and other stakeholders.
The report was built on evidence from physical inspections of prisons and police holding cells as well as “intensive” interviews and interactions with inmates and prison staff.
Apart from narrating cases of bribes to court clerks and police prosecutors, the report also details incidences of inmates’ torture in police holding cells and delays in implementing judges’ determinations by court clerks.
The inspectorate has asked the Judiciary to investigate the highlighted allegations and government to ensure that some of the critical problems outlined in the report are urgently addressed.
“The inspectorate has also noted that reports submitted to Parliament are not tabled for deliberations, defeating the [Legislature’s] oversight function on prison good governance,” it says.
The August 2016 report-the sixth since the inspectorate’s inception-claims abuse of prisoners, breach of the 48-hour rule, corruption among officers, including on appeals and presidential pardons as well as amnesty.
Other challenges prisoners face are poor sanitation and diet, overcrowding, pitiable ventilation, missing files, failure to access legal representation, and delays in finalising investigations due to corruption.
In the report, inmates, among other things, alleged that the clerks at the High Court deliberately delay taking orders for release or reductions in sentence just to extract bribes from the inmates.
“The situation gets so bad that there are situations where a co-accused who can afford a lawyer would be granted bail while his fellow accused would remain on remand. This raises issues of the right to legal representation,” reads the report.
It added that in some cases, the study found that the only way an appeal can be set before a judge was when an inmate’s relative bribed clerks at the High Court.
“The inmates were further distressed by delays by the courts in trying cases or delivering judgements, with the result that there was an increase in the number of inmates overstaying on remand. Some inmates had been waiting for their judgements since 2006,” reads the report.
The inspectorate heard from several inmates allegations that police officers use physical torture to force them to plead guilty to crimes they know they did not commit.
The report states: “Inmates in some prisons complained of cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of warders. One such report emerged at a prison in the Southern Region where prisoners reported to have been beaten with a sjambok whenever they visited the clinic.
“A pervasive culture of fear exists among inmates, which prevented many from speaking out for fear of repercussions. The report also said some inmates were serving custodial jail sentences when they could have been given suspended sentences.
In the report, the inspectorate also noted that courts remanded offenders for petty offences which would ordinarily qualify for bail.
“Further, there were complaints relating to a magistrate who was accused of being very harsh in that she did not take into account the time one spent on remand as part of her sentence. The same magistrate was faulted for concealing files to prevent them from being scrutinised by the High Court during confirmations.
“The inspectorate was of the view that the judicial officer was not fit to hold the office and should thus be formally disciplined and, if that fails, she should be removed from office for not upholding the rule of law and [for] miscarriages of justice.”
ACB public relations officer Egrita Ndala acknowledged receiving complaints against individuals that work in Police, Judiciary and Prison Service.
But she said it was difficult to come up with the actual figures of how many officers are involved because the complaints do not come as institutions’, but rather as individuals.
Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) executive director Victor Mhango said cases of bribery and corruption involving police prosecutors and court clerks are rampant.
“People come to our institution quite a lot to complain about police officers asking for bribes to let them go. Offenders most of the times are not given general receipts when fined for their crimes or bail.”