The recent corruption expose in the Immigration Department by The Weekend Nation underlines how endemic corruption is in public organisations. It puts the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the spotlight on whether it has the capacity to investigate corruption.
Corruption has become so widespread that it has become a norm. To get a service, one has to bribe officials or know someone. An individual without connections or unable to palm oil someone is unlikely to get service on time. If you get it the normal way, it is after a long wait. This means people with money are assisted first at the expense of the underprivileged.
What the journalists uncovered is just a tip of the iceberg. If the ACB was carrying out proper investigation and keen at visiting institutions that provide public service such as the Judiciary, Police, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS), a lot of officers would have been behind bars a long time ago on corruption charges. However, the ACB is not digging deeper. The truth is corruption is taking place at all levels of society including the private sector where officials bribe government officials to get tenders and other business opportunities.
It is appreciated that the ACB cannot fight corruption alone. Everyone has an obligation to report corruption to the ACB. However, the ACB should be in the forefront of fighting corruption. That responsibility cannot be delegated to anyone. Officers need to be pro-active rather than sit in the office, waiting for whistleblowers to feed them with information.
As they mingle with people, they will gather important information and get pointers about corrupt practices and officials. Those in the know will tell you that a chain of people (including senior people) are involved in corrupt practices. So even the top brass are in the game.
The increase in passport fees may mean an escalation of corruption as well. Forget about the assurance by the Chief Immigration Officer that the “increase will improve service delivery as applicants will now be meeting full cost of producing passport documents.” That is just a public relations statement. Anyone who has applied for a passport will tell you that the immigration department is very inefficient and corrupt. It can take two years before one gets a passport. Some applicants just give up. Others opt to camp at immigration offices to wait for the passport.
It is important for ACB staff to spend time in the field such as visiting road blocks and observing from a distance what is happening. Officers will be amazed at how corrupt traffic police are. Motorists get away with many traffic offences at roadblocks because of bribes. Carrying a video camera may prove handy when it comes to providing solid evidence in court.
ACB staff need to sniff for corruption. They should be hunting down corrupt officials in public institutions including border posts such as Dedza, Mwanza and Karonga where corruption is the order of the day. Traders bribe MRA officials to reduce duty or get away with payment. Those who bring in reconditioned vehicles are made to wait for several hours before their papers are processed. MRA officials deliberately work very slowly as a strategy to solicit bribes. How can a customs form take three hours or more to sign? The Mchinji road MRA office in Lilongwe is also notorious for that. When agents file papers to clear a vehicle, they can wait longer than necessary unless the “give them money for Fanta”.
With the economic hardships escalating in light of the depreciation of the kwacha, now pegged around K520 to a dollar and the looming fuel hike, one can also expect the level of corruption both in public and private institutions to increase. Hence, the ACB needs to step up its investigation capacity. Working with the media is one viable option. The ACB should explore the possibility of forming an association of investigative journalists who will be responsible for unearthing corruption both in the public and private sectors.