On February 5 2012, I was one of the people who filled the College of Medicine hall in Blantyre to listen to speeches and memoranda on the fight against corruption in Malawi.
Malawi, being one of the countries where corruption is a big challenge, I was eager to hear if there are some improvements. I heard nothing of that sort.
Corruption is one of those terms that have defied a mathematical exactitude in definition.
What we know is that, like prostitution, corruption is a big problem worldwide, greater in some countries than in others.
In the newspaper of the Royal Economic Society dated January 2012, there is a short account of corruption worldwide.
We are told that Ã¢â‚¬Å“if a country has much corruption it is likely to have weak government with limited ability to enact or enforce budgetary restraint and vice versa.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore are said to be the least corrupt countries in the world. Others are Sweden and Finland. These constitute the topmost group.
Britain, France and Germany are also said to have good scores on corruption.
Someone said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Although I cannot define what an elephant is, I can recognise it when I see itÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Similarly, we recognise corruption when it takes place. We either see the act or hear about it.
What happens, for example, for a suspect who is on remand to escape from a well fortified prison?
The next day you are told he has fled to another country, raising questions such as: How did he manage to slip through checkpoint and how did he get foreign currency?
In such situations, we cannot help assuming that someone offered him illicit help.
If we learn that a firm won a public contract and did a poor job or failed to complete a project because it lacked the skill, we wonder how did it get the contract in the first place.
At times, we hear sad stories of how the eligible firms were denied the contract, raising questions on what criteria was used to pick the incompetent company.
Some forms of corruption are subtle. One of them is called rent-seeking in economics.
This is a form where someone uses his influence on government officials to earn more without producing more goods or providing more services.
He may persuade government officials to deny others an opportunity to start rival businesses or to impose taxes on imports competing with his products.
When the rival products are kept out, he may earn more from the goods and services he sells even if he compromises on quality or is not providing more of them.
The evils of corruption may be divided into those that are inimical to the development of a country and those which inflict injustice.
If two or three engineers apply for a job to construct a bridge and the job is given to the least qualified because he is related to someone on the selection panel, the bridge may collapse not long after it was declared completed. This harms the development of a country.
Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore told a magazine that he hired men and women who were geniuses or above average because they were the ones who were capable of bringing about change.
This is part of the explanation why he transformed Singapore from a third to a first world country.
Other countries are finding development impossible to achieve because they do not hire people on merit.
Just as a healthy shoot cannot come out of a defective seed, so competence and great achievement cannot come out of people whose mere qualification is that they have pleasant faces, sweet tongues and are obedient, but without the brains.
New terms or usages keep on occurring in the English language and our own which we, old-timers have to learn.
Now and again, we hear that Malawi should be Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcorrupt-freeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ while in the olden days we used to say Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcorruption freeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
Whatever the right term, there is a general view that corruption is the highest among our traditional authorities and the police.
I have no evidence to back up this view. But those who intimidate ACB officials should be severely be dealt with.