Among several meanings of corruption, one is “rotten”. When something is rotten, it usually smells. In Malawi, corruption and crime have reached such a high proportion that one despairs as to what can be done about this.
Yet as the Anglo-Irish statesman of the 18th century Edmund Burke said, even in despair we must keep on working trying to retrieve what is lost.
Not every corruption is illegal. Some are just unethical. A boss who offers promotion to a pretty, young inexperienced secretary in preference to an ageing, experienced secretary may be committing no crime. But his behaviour is definitely morally devoid of justice.
There are varied types of corruption and they contribute to economical hardship as well as deterioration in a variety of ways.
Where there is cronyism in appointments to key positions in the public service, general efficiency suffers. The Cashgate scandal could not have become chronic if appointments on the basis of merit had been adhered to. Those who have been stealing public funds are members of a network. They have been shielding each other but the Lord in His mercy has seen to it that the crimes are uncovered.
We have just heard of contracts being awarded to people who failed to carry out the job because they lacked capacity. Some have performed unsatisfactorily where work is done or done badly and development suffers.
When someone observes that other people are prospering through receiving or offering bribes, he or she will see no need of working harder. Instead, he or she will learn the tricks and strategies of giving or receiving bribes without getting caught. A country where such practices are widespread will certainly stagnate if not deteriorate economically.
For a long time Malawi has been known as a poor country. Constant revelations of thefts, corruption and negligence of duties inside and outside Parliament are some of the reasons why there is so much rot in our country.
In some countries when corruption has reached dizzying heights, coup d’états have taken place followed by execution of the perpetrators. Such horrible punishments have refused to desert my memory.
In 1996, there occurred what is perhaps the worst military takeover in post colonial Nigeria and Africa as a whole. One of those young leaders of the coup killed was Chief F.O.E. popularly known as Mr Ten percent. It was said before approving a contract; he would insist that the contractor should deposit 10 percent of the contracts’ value in his personal account. Out of that coup d’état, millions of Nigerians were displaced and killed during the Biafra war. It was like burning a grass thatched house to drive out rats.
After the coup that toppled Kwame Nkrumah, three more coups took place in Ghana while General IAC toppled Dr Busia’s civilian government; he himself was toppled by another military coup accusing him of having received bribes. He and several members of the junta were shot dead.
Earlier, such drastic action had taken place in Turkey. A prime minister called Menderes was deposed and accused of giving public positions and contracts to his relatives at the expense of the deserving non-reserves. He was executed.
I still believe in capital punishment for those who engage in serial murders, derail trains or plant bombs on aeroplanes resulting in deaths of tens of hundreds of people. But I do not believe in capital punishment when the crime is corruption. For one reason, corruption is not as easy to identify as an elephant. Some presents are a form of inducement to someone to grant a favour while others are a genuine token of appreciation.
Still I would urge the Law Commission and Parliament to revisit the Penal Code. There is a lot of inconsistency in the sentences magistrates mete out to convicts. Again and again, I receive telephone calls from radio stations asking whether I agree with those that say Cashgate convicts are being treated with kid gloves.
It is a bit surprising that parliamentarians are giving top priority to matters such as having access to government information or compelling the president to come to Parliament and answer questions. They hardly debate how to combat or reduce the corruption and crime that have tarnished the image of our country in the eyes of the potential investors.
Malawi has nothing to offer foreign direct investors that its neighbours cannot offer as well or even in greater quantities. We can attract those investors to come to us only if we take drastic measures to rid our country of corruption, crime and cruelties.