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Corrupt Malawi

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It’s official. For 7 years running, Malawi has been ranked as one of the countries where corruption is pervasive.

We might soon qualify for the description: “… the Southern African poorest and most corrupt nation.”

This is a distortion from the mantra: “Warm heart of Africa.”

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For those that drive on the Malawian roads, patronise offices responsible for offering public service – in some instances even commercial services – you have to pay something to incentivise the other party to help you or accelerate the process.

Sometimes we find that the corruption has become so pervasive that we describe it as being part of our culture to incentivise or motivate others. The element of it being wrong lost its meaning, generally. For the most part, contents of the newly-released Corruption Index report by Transparency International are not something we can waste time disputing.

The report has shown a further slump of Malawi’s standing on corruption on a global scale. It links the poor showing to a legacy of grand corruption schemes from cashgate to others allegedly committed by the DPP regime.

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We need not delve on challenging the validity of the contents of the report. Let us work on the assumption of how we would ordinarily get our public goods as convenient as possible.

If not for offering a little something in appreciation then its bracing for endless challenges and time wasting tactics till you give in and, unwittingly, join the corrupt.

The report issued by the Transparency International offers a stern warning and a revival strategy for countries that find themselves in circumstances such as those Malawi finds herself in.

Firstly, countries are warned that engaging in corruption during Covid-19 pandemic can lead to deaths or untold suffering for many people who may fail to access services or products required to enhance protection against Covid-19 as patients or social services beneficiaries.

Secondly, the report urges countries to ensure speedy and judicious trial and prosecution of cases currently in court. It is evident that the billions being placed towards the fight against Covid-19 are making some salivate.

The report by the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma a few months ago showed how public officials had abused the Covid-19 resources – extrajudicial funds release orders, purchase of overpriced commodities, opulence in hotel bookings and culinary bills.

Although the Ombudsman’s report, titled “Misplaced Priorities”, showed some things bordering on criminality, we haven’t heard so much about it. Some officials paid back resources they had squandered and returned to their official desks hoping for another attempt at milking public coffers.

This seeming inaction speaks to the lack of either the capacity or a passion to curb corruption in our midst. If the former reason is more relevant, then government may wish to take heed of Transparency International’s advice on building capacity of oversight institutions.

As demonstrated by combing through the Ombudsman’s report referred to above, one would realise that Covid-19 response exposed vulnerabilities of weak oversight and inadequate transparency. Lately, there has been an attempt to mention figures of how much resources have been allocated where. This is not the problem in most cases. The problem is in reporting how the resources were put to use.

Many Malawians were puzzled to learn that some public officials had treated themselves to buffet of prawns as they raced against time to deplete their allocated funding.

If the current government is serious about making sure the nauseating activities revealed by the Ombudsman, oversight institutions must be empowered to ensure resources reach those most in need and are not subject to theft by the corrupt officials.

As the key institutions are given sufficient funds to fight Covid-19, oversight institutions must also have their share of resources, and independence to perform their duties during execution of various Covid-19 related interventions. We have a robust public procurement system.

However, due to the pandemic, some elements of the system were relaxed. This is evidenced by the overpricing of a tablet of soap by as much as three times in the Ombudsman’s report.

Institutions such as the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets (PPDA) should still be fitted into the narrative for oversight purposes. The relaxation should only be there to remedy bottlenecks resulting from delays as a result of red tape and bureaucratic processes.

The role of the PPDA to ensure contracts are awarded in an open and transparent manner needs no further justification beyond the Ombudsman’s report. The Transparency International report also recommends government to promote democratic values. To achieve this, civil society groups and the media must have the enabling conditions to hold governments accountable.

Unfortunately, at this point, in as far as the Covid-19 fight is concerned, government is willing to dish out information that it is willing to engage in two-way communication.

For example, the daily Covid-19 updates are an avenue for one way communication that does not aid in democratisation of Covid-19 information. Issues of prudence that are raised on social media are often a motivation for information given during the daily briefings, reducing journalists to conveyor belts instead of being processors of complex information and give it out in a well-rounded format than the biased, onesided form.

Closely linked to the above is that information must be made available to all without even bothering to invoke rights under Access to Information legislation. Beyond the recitation of millions and billions of Kwacha allocated, government must make publication of disaggregated data on spending and distribution of resources during the Covid-19 a necessity.

This may not only aid in curbing theft, it may help resolve systemic policy issues on equitable access in the Covid-19 response. From a political point of view, the Tonse government rigorously campaigned to end corruption so as to derive value for money for every public coin spent. What must be borne in mind is that the very people responsible of the mess we refer to as worse case scenarios are the very people occupying the very offices responsible for theft of public resources.

If government has never been serious about tackling corruption, the time is now. If not for scoring political points through a hands-on approach to fighting corruption, then to protect the dangers associated with theft of Covid-19 resources. Theft of Covid-19 resources is a catalyst for untimely deaths.

Failing to deal with the loopholes is, by extension, evil.

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