In a few days time, Malawians will be electing a president, members of parliament and councillors. The campaign has been awash with messages and mega plans to develop this country.
There has been a debate on “cashgate” with its 13 billion kwacha syndicate and its predecessor, that for lack of names, I call the “62billion” kwacha. Accusations and counter-accusations, as to who defrauded the tax payer more or less have been made.
No matter who you choose to believe, the fact is all administrations that have governed the country have paid lip service to stop corruption. The question I ask, who will stop corruption when none of the president wannabes have not publicly declared the source of their multi-million kwacha campaigns?
Undeclared persons have invested in these campaigns and expect the usual fertiliser and farm inputs contracts, a perennial conduit for siphoning tax payer’s money.
As the nation eagerly awaits to cast their votes and elect a new leader, the lingering question remains, will corruption come to an end?
The matter of political will by whoever gets elected is the key to rooting out corruption that has placed the country’s ease of doing business and attracting foreign investment in the negative ranks. Has any presidential aspirant come out in the open and declare how they are going to deal with political party funding in form of legislation?
A strong NO so far. Yet political parties will be more than happy top receive tax payer funds by virtue of being in parliament. No presidential contender has publicly declared their source of campaign funding even though there is no law compelling them to do so. This is how political will is measured when dealing with corruption. Have we learnt lessons?
Since the ACB was established some years ago, we have often been very critical of its success, and many have linked it to a machine for oppressing political opponents or a publicity stunt minded organisation that has successfully prosecuted “20 dollar bribe” suspects. The reality remains the masters that govern the country have not shown political will to deal with the vice. Establishing institutions via legal paperwork through parliamentary Acts is just one step, but surely not enough.
Our society however has loads of corruption that we have let go and considered as a normal, and it is beyond the domain of any prosecuting agency to fight.
Maybe someone was right to argue the fact we are all corrupt. And those that have exercised control over leadership have fully taken advantage and the in the process we seem to forget the roles of an elected government.
I contend that using tax payer funds under the guise of personal resources to offer certain public services or social protection is corruption. It is even worse when one’s wealth does not add up.
In this day we still glorify some alleged philanthropists that go on the podium dishing all sorts of things to vulnerable people. There used to be some gentleman or lady, can’t remember which one, that used to go around the country with a truck load of maize and some 50 kwacha bills distributing to “his or her people”.
Sometimes huge cheques were given out to fund a particular project of some kind. Surrogates similarly run nocturnal errands in suburbs and villages with khaki envelops of different sizes, to corrupt minds of the vulnerable on Election Day. The trend has never stopped and all “alumni” of the thuggery school have behaved no different since 1994. This is a form of corruption that is not within the practical reach of the ACB but nonetheless, it is and we must stop it through relevant legislation.
It is corruption in the sense, that the average person is manipulated with a veil of philanthropy in the form of “platform benefits”. But the real catch remains the intent to influence voting behaviour for one’s political benefit using tax payer funds or even personal funds. Any act that is meant to deliberately deceive, such as giving some benefits to a vulnerable person in return for a vote is no different from a clinician sedating their patients to commit a crime.
Now that we head toward elections, we can as well reflect on the law of asset declaration. Some soul searching is required. The law on political party funding is almost non-existent. It is time that we enact a law that puts limits on how much money individuals or businesses can give to a political party. If political parties can get millions from individuals, one can expect that in power they will somehow clandestinely pay such donors using tax payers’ money in ways not in the interest of public finances and tax payers. We have too many examples around the country.
The current statue in asset declaration is not enough and a fertile recipe to perpetuate wanton abuse of public funds for self-aggrandisement. We need potential leaders that can commit themselves to protect our hard earned tax by enacting legislation with punitive acts for all senior public and elected officials that fail to account for their wealth before and after office. In other words no one should assume office if they have not provided a detailed list of their wealth. Similarly benefits should not be given if one’s wealth is not accounted once they leave office.
Otherwise there is nothing to hide, and all public leaders must understand that serving the nation is a matter of trust, not an entitlement. Is there anyone out there seeking the highest office and willing to take on such bold reforms and make it their campaign promise? Otherwise the line, “we are all corrupt” may hold some nasty truths, unfortunately.