Corruption has become a very big problem for Malawi. It is not a new problem but perhaps the problem is currently reaching hitherto unknown levels. We have always had various forms of corruption in the country ranging, on the one hand, from the bribe paid to the police officer on the road to escape a traffic fine, to that little sum paid to the immigration officer to expedite the processing of your passport. On the other hand, there have been cases of subverting procurement procedures for personal gain and also the ‘buying’ of politicians both inside parliament and outside parliament. The examples I highlight are not meant to be exhaustive but simply illustrative of the problem.
The incidence of corruption in Malawi, including its underlying causes, and possible solutions is, luckily, one of those areas where there has been no shortage of research. Besides, institutions like Transparency International, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa have, with some predictable regularity, produced reports chronicling corruption in Malawi. It requires no gainsaying that one can learn a lot from consulting these reports. One need not agree with everything that is contained in the existing research reports on corruption in Malawi but, I repeat, surely one can learn a lot!
Fellow Malawians, do you know that we have a National Anti-Corruption Strategy that was adopted in 2008? To the best of my knowledge, the government has not disowned this document yet. The Strategy, complete with a clear statement of the strategic objectives, the activities that were meant to be carried out and also a monitoring and evaluation framework is still there for all to read. The Strategy was meant to be reviewed every five years from 2008 while a mid term review was due after two and a half years – my information at the moment indicates that neither the midterm review nor the five-year review was undertaken. I must confess, this document makes for some very good reading. It sets very lofty and ambitious strategies and targets for dealing with corruption in Malawi.
Now hear this, if my memory serves me right, in February 2006 during the Anti-Corruption Day the chosen theme for the event was ‘Fight Corruption: Develop Malawi.’ Fast-forward almost ten years, we decide to hold a national conference on corruption and guess the theme? – Corruption in Malawi: Reality or Perception. Tell me someone is pulling my whiskers, this cant be real! To illustrate the absurdity of the theme for the national conference consider this, ten years ago, we were prepared to proceed on a platform where we acknowledged that fighting corruption would be key to developing Malawi and presently, we would want to ask the question if corruption is indeed reality in Malawi? Really? On this point I have to join issue with others that have also pointed out the absurdity of the theme chosen for the national conference. Tongue in cheek, I dare say, perhaps this choice of theme was deliberately malicious, just perhaps! But I am truly at a loss to understand this.
Well, aside from the absurdity of the theme chosen for the conference, the crude truth is that the country does not need a national conference to figure out how we must deal with corruption. I am pretty confident that for all the suggestions that emerged during the national conference, there is already a report or two or even more somewhere which have already made the same point. I have been trying to find a complete record of the resolutions/recommendations from the Conference without much success but I am willing to bet that there is unlikely to be any heretically new suggestion(s). Lets face it, we know what the problem is. We also have a very clear idea of what must be done to solve the problem. But here is the clincher; we do not have a leadership that has the spine to spearhead the required changes to mount a credible fight against corruption. So we prefer to, instead of confronting the problem head on, engage in funny masquerades and charades just to complete the pretence that we are doing something about the problem.
There is no novelty in what I am about to say now – it was true many years back it remains true today, as long as our political leaders do not show genuine commitment to fight against corruption the problem will only deepen. Commitment can be manifested in various ways, for example, adequately resourcing the relevant law enforcement agencies would go some way in boosting the fight against corruption. All the rhetoric must be matched by corresponding action otherwise it is all a load of hot air. Allow me to conclude by reminding us that if our politicians go into office not for the purpose of bringing about transformational change but only so as to access the levers of power, which in turn guarantee access to State resources, then we are truly doomed.
*Mwiza Jo Nkhata is an associate professor of Law, University of Malawi.