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Anti-Corruption Bureau watching over new Cashgate?

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has said it is not investigating any public officer with suspicious amounts of wealth claiming no one has tipped the Bureau in that respect.

A couple of public officers have, under the two years of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, found themselves wallowing in wealth and this is particularly evidenced in construction of houses.

Among several such cases that have become subject of public suspicion is a multi-million compound of many upmarket houses under construction in Lilongwe which is being linked to a presidential aide.

The compound is located in Area 49. Workers at the site told Malawi News that the houses belong to a presidential assistant.

Currently, ministers receive a salary of about K1 million while presidential assistants receive a salary of about K300, 000 per month.

The Corrupt Practices Act 1995 Section 32 empowers the bureau to investigate any public officer deemed to be in possession of unexplained property.

“The bureau may investigate any public officer where there are reasonable grounds to believe that such public officer maintains a standard of living above that which is commensurate with his present or past official emoluments or other known sources of income,” reads Section 32(1)(a).

Spokesperson for the ACB, Egrita Ndala, said in an email that the Bureau is aware of the construction of various buildings across the country, but it is not aware of who is constructing such houses and if they are using money obtained corruptly as feared.

When put to Ndala if the Bureau has for the past two years been invoking Section 32, she said the bureau still relies on members of the public to alert it on any undertakings such as construction of houses with money which has been obtained corruptly.

According to Ndala, Section 32 does not create offences.

“The Bureau usually invokes Section 32 on some ongoing investigations because the Section itself does not create offences. However, the Bureau is still conducting investigations into alleged corrupt practices but the fact that there is no investigation specifically based on Section 32 does not mean it has stopped investigating corruption cases. The media is aware of the Bureau investigating corrupt practices in relation to cash gate among other cases,” Ndala said.

Ndala suggested that the fight against corruption in Malawi needs to be done in a bigger context.

The ACB spokesperson argued that while the country is making strides in fighting against corruption, there were also need to address others factors that accelerate corruption.

“The hunger crisis, the economic challenges, overpopulation and other social problems have escalated the problem of corruption in Malawi. They have impacted negatively on the fight against corruption. If Malawi is to successfully deal with corruption, it has to also deal with these other problems,” said Ndala.

The graft-busting body has faced criticism for what is seen as its lukewarm approach to fighting corruption in the country in the past two years, a situation which is seen as creating grounds for corruption to be endemic.

Its seeming indifference on the K236 billion fraud saga has been used as an illustration of its loosened grip on the fight.

In this case, it is understood that seven ministers in the current cabinet have been implicated and although the National Audit Office handed over the files to the ACB, the Bureau is yet to take action.

The Bureau told the media last month that it was not sure on when it would complete the probe on 13 files that were submitted to the Bureau in relation to the forensic audit covering the period from January 2009 to December 2014.

It said the forensic Audit report from which the 13 files (seven of which are for cabinet ministers) were produced took the auditors 10 months, and it could not be a very fast process to them.

The money said to be involved according to the audit was initially K577 billion, before it was reduced to K236 billion.

The Bureau’s Director, Lucas Kondowe, said at a press conference in Lilongwe that the institution has been working on the 13 files submitted to the Bureau.

“We have been trying to establish whether or not there were any elements of fraud and corruption. It will take a little bit of time to complete the process. Be reminded that it took almost a year for the forensic auditors to compile the report,” Kondowe said.

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