Fresh calls for the independence of the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) have emerged with legal, rights and socio-economic groups expressing dismay over continued rhetoric in dealing with corruption in the country.
In interviews ahead of the commemoration of the International Anti-Corruption Day today which President Lazarus Chakwera will preside over in Blantyre, a legal scholar, Malawi Law Society (MLS), Integrity Platform and the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) said yesterday that dealing with the vice requires not only independence of the ACB, but also concluding cases and restitution.
They argue that the ACB should be completely independent with adequate unding, protection of the appointment and tenure of its director general and strengthening the capacity of other partner institutions, including the police and the Judiciary. independent with adequate
While not solely blaming the ACB for not concluding many cases in comparison with arrests made over the years since revelations of Cashgate in 2013, the stakeholders said they are worried with closure of the cases, which they believe is deflating people’s trust in the systems.
In an interview, MLS president Burton-Chigo Mhango said while the ACB seems to be doing its work independently after the elections, he cautioned against the appetite to arrest politicians, especially those associated with previous regimes.
He said: “So far, it seems that as ACB and other institutions, they would love to make their name by moving on big heads, moving corruption on politicians, more especially those associated with the previous government, that move somehow will derail the efforts.
“We should make ACB as neutral as possible, not focusing on the politicians and not only those associated with the previous government; otherwise the good faith in it will be removed. We should let it move to other institutions like police and hospitals where these things are also happening.”
Mhango also stressed the need for the ACB to be completely independent while admitting that there is delay in concluding corruption related cases, which is also the situation with other categories.
On his part, law professor Garton Kamchedzera of Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi— agreed with Mhango that there has been too much focus on individuals, with little being done on restitution.
He said: “People continue getting things wrongly, weighing their chances that maybe, they will not be caught and if they are arrested, the case will drag, and nothing will come out of it.
“There is no real change between the two regimes in terms of effectiveness. The only change is that the ACB this time seems to have greater autonomy than before.
“For the ACB, it’s not just a question of asking for more independence, the law guarantees that. Offices perform depending on technical competency of their people. Look at the Constitutional Court and the Ombudsman on how they have performed. After all, the ACB now has more funding, so it has to work much better.”
In the 2020/21 National Budget, allocation for the ACB has increased to about K5.2 billion from K3.2 billion last year while that of the Directorate of Public
Prosecutions has jumped to K1.8 billion from K1.3 billion allocated last fiscal year.
Integrity Platform national coordinator Jeff Kabondo, whose institution is a partner of Transparency International which produces the annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI), expressed worry over delays in concluding cases.
He said it was time the ACB went beyond making arrests and conclude the cases in court.
“They should not just be cases to hoodwink people. Some have suggested that we need a separate court altogether to deal with corruption because many cases nowadays are related to corruption. Let people get arrested, cases taken to court and there has to be restitution if found guilty,” said Kabondo.
Church and Society of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia executive director Moses Mkandawire suggested the need to introduce life-style audits for civil and public servants.
He said: “You will discover that the lifestyle of those working in the public service and the assets they have sometimes do not match their monthly income. You actually see that some of them are not involved in any business but they have property worth millions of kwacha.”
During a meeting with President Lazarus Chakwera on Monday, HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence said they asked the President to come up with a a clear roadmap on reforms on trimming presidential powers as well making ACB independent.
He said: “They have started acting on some cases. Our concern is still the slowness to complete the investigations and prosecution of some of the cases.
“We wrote a letter to Director of Public Prosecutions on delays in concluding cases. HRDC will still push for the cases to be concluded in good time. Malawians want to see results.”
Meanwhile, ACB senior public relations officer Egrita Ndala said the bureau is happy with progress made in 2020, adding that they hope to do more in 2021.
She said: “Yes, people want the cases to be concluded so that when sentences are meted out, it should act as a deterrent to would-be offenders.”
Speaking on November 3 2020 while presenting Malawi’s human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group in Geneva, Switzerland, Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo cited increased funding to ACB as a means to deal with corruption.
In the 2020 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), on corruption, Malawi scored a meagre 34.3 percent, deteriorating with -6.5 points, owing to lack of serious anti-corruption mechanisms, graft in State and public, and private sector institutions.
The country has of late seen many instances of flouted public procurement procedures, which is also a concern in the IIAG report. As for the Corruption Perception Index, Malawi performed well in 2015 when it occupied position 112, but slipped to 120 in 2016, then 122 in 2017, moved up to 120 in 2018 before plunging to 123 in 2019.
That is not all, the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for Africa 2019 conducted by the TI also showed that more than half of Malawians think corruption is getting worse in their country.
In his article titled A Jaded Decade of State Capture published in The Nation in December 2019, renowned lawyer and certified fraud examiner Kamudoni Nyasulu said Malawi has in the past 10 years suffered absence of political and public service leadership.