In the light of the recent Cashgate scandal, we though it wise to revisit a May 2012 report from Transparency International which gave an overview of corruption in Malawi as well as the effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies in the country.
Corruption poses a serious challenge in the development of Malawi. The country suffers from various types of corruption – from high level political corruption to petty bribery that impedes service delivery and patronage and nepotism that exacerbates inequality and poverty in Malawi society.
Corruption is seen to be particularly severe in the police, registry and permit services, customs, and the judiciary. There are also reports of widespread corruption and extortion by public officials in procurement.
While some of the corruption measurement metrics indicate that Malawi has been making progress on the anti-corruption front in recent years, the country is still marred by high levels of political corruption. Institutions such as the judiciary, the office of the ombudsman and the anti-corruption bureau are seen as being effective in investigating and prosecuting lower level corruption cases. However, experts have raised strong concerns about their treatment of politically significant persons and interests.
The launch of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy in 2008 is thought to have brought many improvements to the anti-corruption framework of the country. Malawi is seen to have strong anti-corruption laws and institutions and initiatives by the private sector complement the governmental efforts. However, experts state that there is still a significant gap between law and practice. For example, civil society and media are two areas where there are adequate laws to protect their independence and freedom, but where the government exerts a strong influence. Lack of adequate funding and human resources for public institutions also add to the erosion of the accountability mechanisms.
At the time of the report, it was widely believed that Joyce Banda taking over from Bingu Wa Mutharika would use the two year opportunity to issue out major reforms to help Malawi’s fight against corruption.
Patronage networks
Patronage and client list networks have been seen to play an important role in fostering corruption in the bureaucracy and political circles in Malawi. Patronage works through appointments in public sector positions, awards of lucrative contracts, and enticements of party loyalists and opposition MPs with cash and favours. In previous administrations, political circles were also characterised by according protection and benefits to the allies of the president and the ruling elite.
Police
The TI Daily Lives and Corruption survey of 2011 found that the Police is perceived by Malawians to be the most corrupt sector. A 2008 Afrobarometer survey also found that 68% of the surveyed citizens believe that police officials are involved in corrupt practices. (Afrobarometer: Summary of Results Malawi, 2008) Similarly, according to the 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report, business executives give the reliability of the police services to enforce law and order a score of 4.6 on a 7-point scale (1 being ‘cannot be relied upon at all’ and 7 ‘can always be relied upon’).
Customs
The Daily Lives and Corruption survey found Customs to be the third most corrupt sector in Malawi – of the citizens who came into contact with the Customs authorities, 41% reported having paid a bribe. Similarly, a 2011 report from the US Department of State also found Customs authorities to be particularly corrupt. A 2010 report from the Heritage Foundation points out that cumbersome regulations and non-transparent and corrupt customs processes add to the costs of trade with Malawi.
Judiciary
The available information on the judiciary in Malawi paints a mixed picture. The TI Daily Lives and Corruption survey found that 39% of the citizens who came into contact with the judiciary in Malawi had to pay a bribe. Other sources report that there is a general lack of capacity in the judiciary, and cases are often delayed, postponed, and dockets and documents often go missing. Moreover, in the 2011 and 2012 Doing Business survey it was found that in Malawi the cost of contract dispute settlement relative to the value of the contract is one of the highest in the world.
Public financial management
Budget processes In Malawi, significant public expenditures require legislative approval and a separate legislative committee, the Public Accounts Committee, provides oversight of public funds. However, it is alleged that members of the Malawi legislature lack professional support staff to help them monitor the budget and other legislative processes.
Public procurement
Corrupt practices and extortion by public officials in the procurement of goods and services are said to be widespread in Malawi, and tender awards is plagued by patronage. In the 2010 – 2011 Global Competitiveness Report, business executives gave the favouritism of government officials towards well connected companies and individuals when deciding upon policies and contracts a score of 3.3 on a 7-point scale (1 being ‘always show favouritism’ and 7 ‘never show favouritism’).
Revenue administration
It is alleged that enforcement of tax laws by Malawi’s national tax collection agency (MRA) is selective and often favours are given to individuals who have family or friends within the authority or in government. (Malawi –Scorecard 2011, Global Integrity) According to the 2008 Afrobarometer survey, 21% of citizens believe that most or all tax officials are involved in corruption. Similarly, the US Department of State in a 2007 report stipulated that tax administration is one of the public areas where corruption is most prevalent.

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