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Lifestyle audit gains currency

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Joyce Chitsulo

The parliamentary monitoring committee has started the process of reviewing Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests Act of 2013 to extend lifestyle audit of all public servants to business persons and managers of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

The committee wants all public servants, business persons and NGO managers to be on the list of those eligible to declare assets.

The law promotes public confidence in public service through curbing of corrupt practices by making sure all public officers declare their assets and business interests.

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However, the current act does not require people in the private and NGO sector to declare their assets.

In an interview with Malawi News, Public Appointments Committee Chairperson Joyce Chitsulo said by limiting to politicians and senior public servants, the asset declaration act promotes corruption for people working in the private and non-governmental sectors and among junior public servants.

“Asset declaration should not be limited to politicians only or selected people working at Capital Hill or in local councils. People in the private sector, including business persons and those working with NGOs, should be subjected to lifestyle audit too. They need to declare their assets,” Chitsulo said.

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But Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Executive Director Willy Kambwandira, while agreeing that auditing lifestyle is key to fighting corruption, was skeptical on the review of the assets declaration law, arguing it is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“It is very sad that the parliamentary committee wants to embark on a review of a law that has never been tested even when we hear that several people have not complied with the act. The law is very clear on penalties for public officers who, without reasonable cause, fail to submit the required declaration within the required time. The law demands that such public officers be dismissed from the public office and, where necessary, be imprisoned for two years. Unfortunately, this has never happened. Parliament has intentionally failed to enforce the law,” he said.

Kambwandira further observed that while it is important to fight private sector corruption, Parliament needs to enforce compliance of the law to safeguard public funds.

The Public Accounts Committee (Pac) of Parliament also recently said it will embark on a lifestyle audit of top former and current government officials to check if the wealth they have corresponds with their earnings.

Committee Chairperson Shadreck Namalomba said the audit would target such people as former and current Cabinet ministers, controlling officers such as principal secretaries, directors, directors of finance, procurement heads, chief executive officers of parastatals, city council heads and district commissioners.

Recently, various corruption scandals involving tenders and suppliers in government agencies have been unearthed, exposing theft of hundreds of millions of Kwacha by state officials from several government bodies.

Over the years, government officials, including business persons, have been arrested for looting public funds. Some arrests and convictions were reported billion Cashgate.

Among those public servants who were arrested in Cashgate related cases were former budget director Paul Mphwiyo and former principal secretary for the Ministry of Tourism, late Treza Senzani.

More recently, Norman Chisale, security aide to former president Peter Mutharika, is answering fraud-related charges and his property has been frozen by the courts to determine the source of such wealth.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Gift Trapence has asked Tonse government to allow entities and publicly owned institutions to publish full details of tenders and awards beginning July 1 this year.

“For example, if this road is being built, we want to know: Who won the tender for the construction? How much was the tender? Who came in second and third? Why was the first person awarded instead of these two? All these reasons, we need to know,” he said.

Trapence has suggested that all heads of procurement and accounting departments should be vetted and subjected to polygraph tests to determine their levels of integrity.

Malawi scored 32 points out of 100 on the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International.

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