FIGHTING CORRUPTION IN MALAWI FROM A NARROW PERSPECTIVE

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It is easy to claim to be fighting against corruption on the one hand while promoting it on the other hand; a dichotomy of some sort. This shows that corruption is elusive. The problem starts from the way it is defined. In some countries, corrupt practices have been restricted to the exchange of money. Unless, there is exchange of money, it is difficult to allege a corrupt act took place.
The Daily Nation of 14th June, 2011, reported of the arrest of Traditional Authority Mponde in Nkhota-kota for soliciting brides from citizens who want to become chiefs. A former ambassador was accused of involvement of corruption before being interrogated. Similarly a High Commissioner was tried on corruption charges which proved he never benefitted personally from the public funds. Was this a matter of intimidation?
The reality is that corruption does not only involve the exchange of money. In the United States of America, corruption includes failure to declare gifts received while holding public office. The question is, would the public officer have received the gift if it were not for holding public office? The belief is that some gifts are “laced with poison” aimed at influencing favours at a later date.

One citizen gave the example of a public broadcaster which only allows one party to express itself. When only one side of the political landscape is given exclusive airtime on the national broadcaster at the expense of the opposition who constitute taxpayers funding, the institution has to be corruption. How can the opposition and other non political actors, who fund the broadcaster through taxes, be left out when they also have a stake in the broadcaster? Another example is when police arrest citizens on orders from politicians. Such arrests can only be defined as corrupt as they do not follow the law.

In Malawi, government has often claimed ownership of public projects sponsored by tax payers or donor money. A resident of the area where the project took place lamented that when the government of founding President Banda had constructed the Mpira Water Dam, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) claimed it was money from the President. Similarly, when the government of former President Muluzi had constructed Nachitheme Secondary School, UDF leaders claimed it was money from the President. The story is the same with the DPP government; they claim the subsidized fertilizer is from President Bingu wa Mutharika.

In the absence of the Anti Corruption Bureau, it was fine for the MCP to cheat citizens. The story was different with the UDF. It was the UDF that introduced the Anti Corruption Bureau. Why did former president Dr Muluzi claim ownership of public projects funded by tax payer’s money? The same question goes to the DPP? When President Bingu wa Mutharika took office his mantra was zero-tolerance to corruption. Why does the President allow members of his party to claim ownership of public projects funded by tax money?
The blame is on the definition of corruption in the Corrupt Practices Act. It is narrow and academic. Corruption cannot be restricted to the exchange of money or roofing sheets meant for public schools. It is corruption for anyone to claim ownership of state resources. It is corruption for the executive to disobey court orders. Similarly, it is corruption to gain cheap popularity from poor citizens for giving them subsidized fertilizers which is bought with tax money. It is corruption for the state media to air unbalanced stories.
The Anti-Corruption Bureau should not be blamed for tolerating corruption. These other acts are not included in the Corrupt Practices Act. Any arrest outside the Act would be challenged in a court of law. The first step is for citizens to lobby through their respective members of parliament for the corrupt acts left out to be included in a new act. Until that happens, ruling parties will have a field day winning undeserved votes from poor ignorant villagers.
Ruling parties will continue to doubly short change the poor citizens. Citizens will, first, be squeezed of their hard earned money through taxes, and secondly, lied to about the benevolence of the ruling party President when it is actually their own money at work on all development projects. The Head of State is only doing what he/she was employed to do.

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