Hon. Folks, last week marked the first 100 days in office for the Tonse Alliance government led by President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and his second-in-command Saulos Chilima of UTM Party.
The two won the presidency on June 23 largely on the cheap fertiliser platform and their resolve to fight endemic public corruption which soiled former president Peter Mutharika’s character and ruined his re-election chances on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket.
Throughout their campaign, Chakwera and Chilima charged Mutharika’s DPP of committing very serious economic crimes against Malawians as they promised to crack down their whip on corruption soon after assuming office as part of their joint Tonse philosophy to ‘drain the swamp’.
Hon. Folks, nearly four months since Chakwera and Chilima assumed the presidency, reforms are well under way and some citizens are optimistic of change while others doubt and ridicule the slow pace at which promised change is talking shape.
So far, the current government appears to free and empower key State prosecuting agencies such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Malawi Police Service (MPS) which are critical in combating unprofessional conduct particularly among public servants.
These bodies, meanwhile, are pushing through several high profile corruption cases involving some former and serving top government officials, including ex-Cabinet minister Uladi Mussa who was convicted this week in the passport fraud case committed when he was minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security in 2013.
Of course, it may be too soon to judge whether these and other efforts to curb widespread corruption by the current administration can be labelled a success.
But a key question remains; what happened to the 30-day corruption amnesty for all politicians and government officials jointly proclaimed by Chakwera and Chilima during their thick campaign trail?
The two are on record as having told Malawians that once elected they would offer a limited amnesty for individuals and companies to surrender funds stolen from public coffers and warned that their government will prosecute those who fail to comply after the amnesty expires.
One of them actually said: “We have people who are in prison for minor offences, some of them for stealing chickens. We will release them all and replace them with these real thieves. If you know that you are wealthy because you stole money, you should start retuning all of it because when we get into government next year, we will not spare you.”
Definitely, corruption amnesty programmes are well suited for countries like ours which lack the manpower to investigate everyone suspected to have stolen or mismanaged public funds and can be a potential solution to limited investigative resources.
Really, it is high time the government considered declaring that 30-day amnesty now to recover all ill-gotten gains as a strategy to help curb the scourge of corruption in the country.
I dare say there are certain individuals out there who certainly have billions or hundreds of millions in unjustified financial gains and are simply praying to their gods to help them get off the hook safely by incapacitating the government’s anti-corruption drive through all means necessary.
Maybe such a radical initiative can help Malawians recover their looted funds other than just relying on State prosecuting agencies whose operations have been choked by financial and human resource constraints for decades.
Hon. Folks, let truth be told that even the current crackdown on suspected corrupt individuals still runs on meagre financial and human resources, rendering it impossible to track every suspect and an amnesty is what the government should consider before landing on those suspects full throttle with a tonne of bricks.
Some experts argue that corruption amnesties provide fresh avenues to regain ill-gotten wealth hidden overseas and help authorities to solicit new information about past corrupt schemes involving senior government and public officials.
They also suggest that such ultimatums repair the civil service and reposition public officers who may have acted corruptly under previous regimes to properly support the current anti-corruption drive although some officials will display pockets of resistance against such programmes.