As the Tonse administration prepares the 2020/21 national budget, it will do well to listen to the voice calling out for adequate funding to governance institutions to fight graft in the country. But if government thinks it is a far cry to adequately fund such institutions, then Malawians might as well declare that the fight against corruption is once again dead before the first step.
The governance institutions that need to be well resourced include the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Judiciary, the Ombudsman and the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC). Others are the Legal Aid Bureau, the Malawi Police Service (MPS), Directorate of Public Prosecutions, to mention but a few. These are the institutions that investigate, prosecute and adjudicate in graft and corruption cases.
For a very long time, these institutions, especially the ACB have been systematically hamstrung by inadequate funding. Almost each successive government has failed to allocate adequate funding to these institutions to enable them to effectively fight corruption.
For some administrations, underfunding has been part of the plan to cripple the fight against graft. For obvious reasons, a government whose officials are neck-deep in graft cannot give teeth to any organisation to fight corruption. That is also why any government with institutionalized corruption will only allocate token funding to governance bodies. This is the reason almost all graft busting institutions have been blaming their failure to crack the whip on corruption on underfunding. Other reasons are understaffing and political interference.
For example, for ACB to arrest someone for an alleged crime, it first has to investigate the matter and establish prosecutable evidence on the issue. In some cases, such investigations may have to be done outside the country.
One of the problems the Tonse Alliance pledged to end during campaign once voted into power is corruption. Their message about prosecuting thieves, looters and plunderers of our taxes was well received. Other promises were cheap fertilizers, jobs, to mention just a few.
On their part, Malawians nodded in affirmation by voting for the Tonse candidate en mass. The voters are now waiting with baited breath for the Tonse’s pledge to bring sanity and restore governance and integrity in the management of the country’s finances.
As if to fulfill its campaign promise, the new administration has been on the offensive arresting suspects for various crimes. With the change of government, the police have been locking up the same people one could only dream would one day face the law.
Government has also swiftly made changes in top positions of some institutions. These include the MPS, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and in the public service. These are strategic changes meant to add momentum to the fight against corruption and restore rule of law necessary for the change Malawians aspire for. This far, government is on the right path.
But this momentum could swiftly fizzle out and come to naught if it is not bolstered with adequate resources. To drain the swamp, there ought to be a concerted effort by government to allocate adequate funding to all the institutions mentioned above. And if you ask me, this is done in the national budget. This is revenue first and foremost from Malawians themselves. Government cannot win this war if it solely depends on the generosity of other people or bodies. If there are donors, let them come just to supplement our efforts. A government that is serious about fighting graft does not wait upon the benevolence of others for it to do the job. Development partners will always support a good cause. But the onus is on government to first show commitment.
Granted, the resource envelope is small. No one can dispute that there is a lot of pressure on the national budget to cater for so many sectors and initiatives. The Covid-19 pandemic has just worsened the situation. But key to winning this war is political will. Even with few resources, if Government is determined to win the campaign, win it will.