Despite public outcry that middlemen in government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) push up prices of services, they continue to roam most government premises freely.
Spot-checks in three main government service providers Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services (DICS), Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) in Blantyre revealed that there is still a high influx of middlemen.
The middlemen are involved in transactions of government business leading to inefficiencies that raise the price of public services beyond the reach of ordinary Malawians.
For instance, the first person one meets at a DRTSS office is neither a staff nor a guard, but agents, who are present in the office premises, ready to help with all their sweetness and modesty.
One such agent, who identified himself as Mandala, explained that they hang around the DTRSS Ginnery Corner offices because they know some motorists, who want their papers processed quickly, will need their help.
“If you want Certificate of Fitness [CoF] we can help you without necessarily taking your car to the pit. You just pay K25 000 and in 10 minutes you would get your CoF,” Mandala claimed.
He said the DRTSS normal procedure is slow such that some people are reluctant to spend time to complete it, while others do not even attempt to find out the actual procedure.
“Most people do not know how to apply for a licence or CoF,” he said, warning that if people go with legal procedures, then there are high chances that one has to wait for hours on end at the DRTSS office or asked to come the next day, week or month.
At MRA Blantyre Port, middlemen or dobadobas, as they are often called, conduct their illegal business freely in the compound.
This is despite several MRA management posters in the premises, one of which reads: “Beware of dobadobas! Do not engage middlemen or Dobadobas to process papers for you: Customs Clearance Certificate (CCC), Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) or C180 form”. These documents are processed and issued by Custom Officers for free.”
Inside the compound, middlemen challenge customers that they cannot process any documents on their own: “Every application such as CCC, TIP and others are difficult and tiresome to process and needs our involvement for speedy processes,” one middleman told us.
Once you engage them they demand a heavy ‘service fee’ ranging from K20 000 to K100 000.
At Department of Immigration, the middlemen with the help of immigration officers can process passports forms without signatures of traditional leaders or the district commissioners (DCs).
The signature of the traditional leader or DC is one of the requirements when applying or renewing the passport, according to the Malawi passport form.
Officials at both MRA and the Immigration Department said it has proven tough to eliminate the middlemen.
They said MDAs are open to the general public which make it difficult to identify the middlemen.
In an interview on Thursday, DICS national spokesperson Joseph Chauwa acknowledged the influx of middlemen at Immigration Department offices despite measures to flush them out, such as introduction of banks and making available, online, electronic forms for Malawi passports.
“We have tried every possible solution to get rid of the middlemen and we are still doing a lot to ensure that they don’t take advantage of our applicants,” he said.
Chauwa explains that the department even introduced photography services within the system to cut out middlemen, but the problem still persists.
“The biggest challenge is that our department is a public office and as a public service provider, it is open to the general public. So, it is really difficult to identify the middlemen,” he said.
Steve Kapoloma, MRA head of corporate affairs echoed Chauwa’s sentiments that it is difficult for the tax collecting agency to identify middlemen among the taxpayers.
He explained that for MRA, the major challenge is that there are some processes which clients first deal with clearing agents. So, the middlemen take advantage of the arrangement.
“But it is also difficult to identify dobadobas because we receive different taxpayers who stand outside our offices to get services. If people want to engage an agent for processing, we cannot stop them because it’s their choice,” Kapoloma said.
MRA, DICS and DRTSS have on several occasions been named as most corrupt government institutions.
In June this year, a survey which the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the National Statistical Office (NSO) conducted revealed that 54 to 67 percent of service users perceive corruption levels as high at both the Department of Immigration and DRTSS.
The Integrity Assessment Report found that 61 percent of DRTSS service providers felt that officials take bribes while 44.4 percent of users acknowledged that money, in form of a bribe, is paid out. n