It’s just a few weeks ago when Transparency International (TI) firmly pushed Malawi into the hall of shame when it lumped the country into a bunch of nations who are perceived to be the most corrupt globally.
One would have thought that this would be an opportunity for a broad and in-depth review of our approach to the fight against corruption.
That it would be a time for soul-searching to look at where we are going wrong and what should be done to turn things around so that we bring back the confidence of taxpayers, donors and investors.
So far, it seems that no one at Capital Hill and State House has been jolted into action—it is business as usual.
And that business-as-usual approach was reflected in the Mid-Year Budget when Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe decided to raise budgets for the majority of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), but neglected several governance bodies, including the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
The Bureau is currently investigating and prosecuting hundreds of Cashgate cases, including those under the broader K236 billion heist in the five years leading to December 2014.
That shameless looting has significantly contributed to the fiscal mess the country is currently in and which has seen development partners shunning to put their money in the country’s leaking public finance management system.
Apart from Cashgate, there are several other corruption cases that the Bureau is working on and which also require resources. Most importantly, as they say, prevention is better than cure.
Thus, there is also need for more investment in corruption prevention, which at the moment remains too low to have an impact and improve the country’s overall image on graft.
With the TI damning verdict, one would have expected more investment from government into the fight against corruption at every level, especially a comprehensive funding to the country’s anti-corruption strategy.
Of course, as I have said before, the private sector, civil society and donors—among other stakeholders—have a major role to play in supporting the ACB and developing their own in-house anti-corruption strategies, but it is ultimately government that has to lead.
When we see so much budget increases to other MDAs while ACB funding remains low, questions must be raised about the administration’s willingness to fight fraud and corruption in the country.
While money cannot solve every corruption problem in the country, it is certainly a strong facilitator.
After all, bills have to be paid anyway in form of accommodation, fuel, vehicles, allowances, stationary and other expenses for lawyers and investigators to do the needful.
Sadly, there appears to be a silent squeeze of other governance institutions as well. For example, government has cut funding to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), a constitutional body crucial to the protection and defence of the coveted Bill of Rights.
For years, MHRC—despite being taxpayer-funded—has proved to be the most independent public agency on the books.
It has bravely called out government on human rights abuses, investigated State involvement in human rights slippages and been a real check on the execute, especially when it comes to the broader question of political governance. The commission is really the agency of the powerless and voiceless.
Yet, instead of supporting it further to strengthen our fledgling democracy, government is weakening the institution through unfair and unjust budget cuts.
The Legal Aid Bureau’s cries for better funding to help the poor access justice has not been well received as it has continued to get far much lower than it would require to make a difference.
The results are that only the rich and powerful have more and more access to justice while the poor, who could have been cleared with legal assistance, rot in jail or suffer in silence.
This is not what Malawians bargained for: People wanted a strong democracy anchored by strong governance institutions.
They are not getting that and it is a real problem.