By Atupele Muluzi
Our Nation is facing significant challenges at the moment. Challenges that have resulted from the ugliest of human traits; greed. Greed is a very dangerous motivation as it seems to find new ways to justify itself.
I am sure that there is wide acknowledgement by those that follow current affairs that we are again facing a political and economic crisis that has left the leaders of our country in a state of paralysis. This at a time when the President has declared a national disaster in several districts following cyclone Ana and the loss of 32 Malawian lives, the worsening economic situation and the ongoing challenges presented globally by COVID – 19.
President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera in his inauguration speech promised to “clear the rubble of corruption” in Malawi. We now find ourselves deep in the rubble. There is alleged corruption within the office of the Secretary to the Cabinet, at the State House and other organs of Government as revealed by the existing investigation and now the prosecutions related to events at NOCMA. The embezzlement of Covid-19 funds for which as yet, no one has been prosecuted.
When the President addressed the nation on 24th of January 2022 he made every effort to say the right things to try to clarify the situation, especially concerning the leaked audio recording of the Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) that brought the looming political crisis into sharp focus.
There are many commendable elements of the President’s speech, however there are still questions that remain unanswered, for instance the President presented himself as a crusader against corruption, yet soon after the speech, ministers suspected of corruption have been re-appointed into the Cabinet and the government’s chief prosecutor, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), is withholding consent for the ACB to proceed with its investigation.
In dissolving the cabinet, the nation believed that this was clear action. That he was removing from his administration individuals tainted with corruption till such time a full investigation could be completed. The question we must ask is why has he reappointed to the Cabinet persons who are under investigation?
Furthermore, he makes mention of “dangerous cartels of corruption that have milked our country dry for decades, including foreign ones that donate to us the crumbs leftover from the bread they steal from us”. Given the ambiguity of this statement I hope that this is not an attempt to find scapegoats in this crisis. The impact of the allegations goes well beyond the shame we must feel as a nation, it undermines our financial standing internationally further damaging our commerce and industry and further weakening our ability to develop as a country.
ACB DIRECTOR MARTHA CHIZUMA
Let us acknowledge the difficult conditions in which the director of the ACB Ms Martha Chizuma found herself, and recognise that the recording was essentially her first error of judgment ever since she took on such a difficult role. She was definitely indiscreet and that is unacceptable, however fighting corruption is not easy, it requires determination and resolve. Support must therefore be given to those that lead this challenging task and Ms. Chizuma needs all our support.
The recording in question seems to have been made and deliberately leaked by State agents and it seems that there is very little interest in knowing who was responsible for this arguably criminal operation meant to compromise the Director of the ACB and obstruct the course of justice.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO RESTORE TRUST
Moving forward and in order to restore public trust in our Government, I propose the following concrete actions, and ask that the Government provide a direct response;
1. Government and international development partners need to immediately strengthen the capacity of the ACB with the necessary capacity and resources to conduct their role effectively.
2. A credible international expert or organisation with experience in investigating and combatting corruption needs to be identified and seconded to the ACB. Their role would be to embolden the existing team, strengthen capacity, and be a “fresh pair of uncompromised eyes” for the ACB leadership.
3. The World Bank Group’s International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA) assists anti-corruption agency heads with mentorship and support and could be a great network for the ACB Director to establish. This would help ensure that the ACB Director does not feel alone in the corruption fight.
4. Establish a fully independent auditing body which conducts regular checks of the Register of Interests, to ensure that declaration of assets is accurate.
5. An annual publication of lifestyle audits for all elected officials and senior public servants.
6. Amend the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions withholding consent to prosecute.
7. Amendment of sections 5 and 7 of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) to enhance the independence of the ACB by trimming presidential power on appointment.
Finally, I would like to assert that, if we are to decisively deal with corruption, we must change the very culture that has been established – As I am on record for saying many times, this takes leadership at every level of our society, but particularly at the top. There cannot be any hiding places. If you are in a position of leadership or supporting that leadership, then you must be exemplary. Any allegation must be properly investigated by the relevant independent authorities and to prosecute any person accused of wrongdoing.
To be clear, I do not define leadership by the trappings of office – but by the vital role of providing clear guidance, example and understanding to drive a stated direction. In sum, corruption is a symptom of weak leadership and has no place in Malawi.