Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) has since June this year suspended its support to Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in view of the absence of director and deputy director at the bureau.

DfID’s move puts pressure on Malawi President Joyce Banda to quickly appoint the ACB top brass given the negative implications of lack of external funding for the bureau’s operational efficiency and fight against corruption.

In the absence of the two officers, the bureau cannot investigate corruption allegations neither can it conduct searches on suspects, leaving the bureau toothless.

The DfID’s suspension comes at a time Malawi is losing about 30 percent of its resource envelope through corruption and fraud, according to official pronouncements on record.

ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala confirmed the paralysis of operations at the bureau due to the absence of the director and deputy director.

“All operations of the Anti-Corruption Bureau which require the authority of the director or deputy director were [are] affected,” said Ndala in response to a questionnaire last week.

She said DfID funds various activities of the bureau such as training, prosecutions and investigations.

The office of director at ACB fell vacant after the holder, Alex Nampota, was forced out by government and arrested on June 28 2012 on abuse of office allegations.

The President appointed Victor Banda, currently assistant director responsible for operations, as deputy director. But he was rejected by Parliament’s Public Appointments and Declaration of Assets Committee in July this year.

DfID programme manager Andrew Massa, when asked what they made of the absence of the leadership at the ACB, said in a written response to a questionnaire: “DfID is not currently providing any funding to the Anti-Corruption Bureau as we are awaiting a resolution of the leadership issue, which we hope will come soon.

“Strong institutions to fight corruption are essential to ensure all public money is used correctly.”

Asked how much has been suspended and what programmes DfID was funding, Massa said: “Currently, DfID has no commitment to the ACB, but since 2006, we have disbursed £2.75 million [about K1.3 billion] to the ACB under a joint arrangement with the Royal Norwegian Embassy. This funding was made to support the ACB’s strategic plans.”

Efforts to talk to the Royal Norwegian Embassy proved unsuccessful as after being advised to e-mail our questions, they were not responded to as we went to press.

‘Shameful development’

Catholic Commission for Justice (CCJP) has since described as “shameful and lack of seriousness” on government side to have no director and deputy director at the ACB.

“It is a sad development considering that it cripples the activities of the ACB. For once we need to show our commitment in fighting graft and corruption. If we cannot allow relevant ACB authorities to be in place and work properly, we are sending negative signals to commitments we make in fighting corruption. We are showing that corruption is not an issue or a menace in our society,” said CCJP’s national secretary Chris Chisoni in an interview last Tuesday.

By not pushing hard for the ACB to have directors, Chisoni argued President Banda is promoting one of the root causes of underdevelopment and poverty in Malawi.

He argued the President was supposed to come up with a new name for the positions after one was rejected.

“There are capable Malawians that can handle this position in ACB. It is, therefore, a shame that we are taking a long time to effectively bring in new personnel,” said Chisoni.

He said it is not surprising that DfID has suspended its funding because of the leadership gap. Chisoni said most bilateral and multilateral partners in development look forward to an effective utilisation of their resources.

He said: “Such lack of commitment only shows we do not yet understand the global trends in dealing with aid effectiveness. Bringing leaders into the fight against corruption is not a difficult matter. What is a problem is the lukewarm approach to institutionalise anti-corruption initiatives.

“We see that some are happy with the paralysis of the ACB, yet they would claim they are interested in actions for good governance. The prospects of losing donor support, therefore, are of our own making.”

But government spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu said government showed willingness to have director and deputy director at the bureau in good time, but the Public Appointments and Declaration of Assets Committee of Parliament shot down the appointment.

Said Kunkuyu in an e-mail response: “The director of ACB that was designated was rejected by the parliamentary committee responsible for appointments and that involves either looking into the report from the committee which may determine the next step or ironing out the shortfalls or going through the whole process again.

“Let it be noted that the absence of a director in that office as of today is a question that can be well answered by the honourable committee because government showed willingness to have a director in place and in good time.”

But some members of Public Appointments and Declaration of Assets Committee of Parliament said Banda did not impress most of them during the interviews.

The committee’s chair Nick Masebo said the committee presented the findings to the appointing authority and could not divulge details to the media.

Appointment of ACB director

The law requires that the President should appoint a competent person to act as director where both director and deputy director are absent.

Reads Corrupt Practices Act section 8 (2): “If both the director and the deputy director are absent from duty or unable for any other reason to perform the functions of their office, the President shall appoint another duly qualified person to act as director during such temporary absence or vacancy.

“Provided that where the period of such temporary absence has exceeded 21 days, the President shall, within 14 days thereafter, furnish to the Public Appointments Committee the reasons why the vacancy in both or either of the two offices cannot be substantively filled with immediate effect and an estimate of the time within which the vacancy shall be filled, being not longer than three months from the expiry of the period of twenty-one days herein referred to.”

Section 11 stipulates the functions of a director and deputy director as authorising in writing any officer of the bureau to conduct an inquiry or investigation into alleged or suspected offences under this Act.

Adds the section: “In the performance of his duties under this Act, the director, the deputy director or other officer of the bureau authorised in writing by the director or deputy director, if so authorised by warrant issued, by a magistrate upon showing cause to the magistrate why the warrant should be issued shall have a—access to all books, records, returns, reports and other documents relating to the work of the government or any public body or private body…access at any time to the premises of any government office, public body or private body, or to any vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle whatsoever, and may search such premises or such vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle if he has reason to suspect that any property corruptly acquired has been placed, deposited or concealed therein.”

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