The United States government has added its voice on the Tonse Alliance administration’s lack of transparency and weak fight against corrupt practices, saying impunity remains a challenge.
In its Malawi 2021 Human Rights Report, the US says although the country’s law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, government did not effectively implement the same last year.
The report, produced by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, states that public officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
“There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year… but progress on investigations and promised reforms was slow,” reads in part the report released three weeks ago.
Painting a picture of where human rights and democracy are under threat, the report also highlights where government has made progress or functioned effectively.
In his introduction to all country reports on human rights practices, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken observed that for nearly five decades now, his country has striven to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide, covering 198 countries and territories.
The US report, which expresses concern on the country’s corruption status, is the third to be released within three weeks after the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and Afrobarometer.
A human rights activist Gift Trapence and political scientist George Phiri in separate interviews this week said the report was a true reflection of the status of human rights protection in the country.
But in an interview on Wednesday, government spokesperson Gospel Kazako trivialised the report and defended the Lazarus Chakwera administration, saying “small elements suggesting a distinct description cannot prevail over achievements made in fighting corruption”.
A fortnight ago, MHRC reported Chakwera’s administration to the 71st Ordinary Session of African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in The Gambia that there is a growing public perception that the Executive is undermining the fight against corruption by allegedly shielding some high-profile figures and under-resourcing the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) so that it does not perform according to its legal mandate.
And in its survey, whose results were released three weeks ago in Lilongwe, Afrobarometer, which works in partnership with the University of Malawi’s Centre for Social Research (CSR), said two-thirds of Malawians perceive corruption levels to have increased in the past year and find government’s commitment to fight the vice wanting.
The pan-African research network that measures public attitudes on economic, political and social matters in Africa revealed that 66 percent of Malawians hold the view that corruption has worsened under the Tonse Alliance administration compared to the Democratic Progressive Party regime.
The survey conducted in February further says Malawians are not satisfied with efforts by government to fight corruption and that 60 percent of Malawians say government has done very badly on fighting the vice.
Ironically, the reports came after Malawi climbed 19 places on the 2021 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, according to rankings released in January this year.
The US report also touches on other government organs such as Judiciary, Malawi Police Service and Malawi Prisons Service, where it said corruption levels are high.
It says while government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, the judicial system was however inefficient and handicapped by serious weaknesses including corruption and shortage of judges, among others.
Reads the report: “Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Impunity was widespread largely due to corruption within the security forces.”
But Kazako urged Malawians to avoid addiction to negativity, arguing it has the potential to compromise the way “we make meaning of issues and things put before us”.
“An addiction to negativity will always drive interpretation in the wrong direction. The facts are there for all to see. The results are there for all to see.
“A small element in a report suggesting a semblance of different narrative cannot outweigh the gains this administration has made in the fight against corruption,” he said.
Kazako cited the increased funding to the ACB as one indication of how committed the government is on fighting corruption.
On his part, deputy National Police spokesperson Harry Namwaza said the agency was making strides in curbing corruption, having dropped from 83 percent (Afrobarometer 2018 survey) to 42 percent this year.
Afrobarometer’s recent findings revealed that citizens view the police as the most corrupt institution followed by the Malawi Revenue Authority.
Besides serious government corruption, the US report also highlights significant human rights issues, including credible reports of arbitrary arrest or detention, harsh and life-threatening prison and detention centre conditions, lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence and criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The US also faults Malawi Government for failing to enforce the law in other areas such as sexual exploitation of children, discrimination and societal abuses and worker rights.
On the positive side, the report, among others, highlights a glimmer of hope, saying there were no reports on government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings, political prisoners or detainees and disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities last year.
It also points out that there were no government restrictions on academic freedom although government sporadically censored films it deemed contained culturally sensitive or sexually explicit material and that there were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilisation on the part of government authorities.
Trapence said government was failing on promotion and protection of its citizens’ human rights, a trend he observed has existed with almost all the country’s democratically elected administrations.
“The government needs to do more to implement the recommendations of the report and also other similar human rights reports to safeguard citizen’s rights,” he said.
On his part, Phiri advised the leadership to act sternly and win public trust in its fight against corruption. “But from what has been going on during the past months, it is obvious government is not interested in fighting corruption.”