The K20 million funded two-day anti-corruption conference that ended on Friday in Lilongwe would end up being another money-draining talk show if government does not go beyond rhetoric and act on resolutions made, some delegates have told Nation on Sunday.
Enthusiasm that the conference would bring solutions to end an entrenched culture of corruption has already waned among the 300-plus delegates following government’s unchanged stance on some key recommendations of the indaba.
Questions remain on government’s commitment to translate some of the key resolutions such as independence of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and other constitutional bodies crucial in preventing and prosecuting fraud, especially after President Peter Mutharika and Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu failed to offer any promises on the matter.
Tembenu told the conference that presidential powers in appointment and removal of ACB director a key recommendation of delegates for review was not impeding the fight against corruption, but simply a public perception.
For the majority, including donors, civil society, academia, church, media and opposition politicians, while they welcome positive sentiments and government’s goodwill which was marked by attendance of Mutharika at the closing ceremony, the conference has set an appropriate agenda, but it would take more political will to bring tangible change.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson Alekeni Menyani said ACB should heed the call to start flexing its muscle on officials in government.
“From here onwards, I would like to see proper coordination between the various government agencies that are fighting corruption. At the moment it appears each organ is fighting its own battles, but we need a proper framework for interagency coordination.
“Again, ACB must start operating as a body that is receptive to concerns of Malawians; once there is an outcry on an issue ACB should stop waiting for complaints but move swiftly to investigate. There should be no scenarios where parliament launches an inquiry into the matter and ACB does nothing,” added Menyani.
Activist Billy Mayaya while commending government for holding the conference, said in the end it was the usual rhetoric.
“The only highlight was Professor PLO Lumumba’s speech and the rest went downhill from there. The argument that corruption is binary , is to say the least, fallacious. Corruption is a national disaster as it impedes all sectors of development. As a way forward, corruption must be at the centre of MGDs III [Malawi Growth Development Strategy III]. The focus must not only be on arresting people but also forfeiting ill-gotten wealth through a new forfeiture law as well as empowering whistleblowers through an enabling law. Short of this, we will continue to sink in the mire of corruption,” said Mayaya.
Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice, Janet Banda, who confirmed the conference has cost donors such as European Union (EU), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Oxfam and government some K20 million, told Nation on Sunday after the conference that delegates should be assured that all resolutions will be sent to Cabinet verbatim for review.
“There are many recommendations some of which the minister could not cite, but we will present everything to Cabinet. I think this is the first time as Ministry of Justice we have hosted such a conference and we believe it is a success. We believe Malawians have been given an opportunity to shape the fight against corruption and we will sincerely listen to their views,” said Banda.
In a statement released to coincide with the closure of the conference, Evangelical Conference of Malawi (ECM), while also applauding the good intentions of hosting such a forum, suggested a set of practical ways to follow up on the conference.
The body of evangelical Christian churches further demanded action from government beyond the rhetoric, saying the efforts of President Mutharika so far in fighting corruption have been a disappointment.
Among others, ECM called tabling of Political Parties Bill before the 2019 campaign, trimming of presidential powers in the appointment of ACB director as already recommended by various actors, development of a comprehensive regime for the protection of witnesses, whistle-blowers and experts, including ACB officials and investigating alleged corruption involving former Agriculture minister George Chaponda and former president Bakili Muluzi.
“The powers of the President must be trimmed, especially as regards the appointment of Anti-Corruption Bureau director as already recommended by various actors, including Public Affairs Committee. Malawi must develop a comprehensive regime for the protection of witnesses, whistle-blowers and experts, including ACB official.”