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ColumnsOpinion & Analysis

No holds barred: Corruption resides in our minds

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Last week’s Malawi News exposé came to the surprise of absolutely no-one. For those who did not read it, investigative journalist Bright Mhango was able to purchase a
driving licence for K150,000, a yellow fever certificate for K3,000 and a medical certificate declaring him fit for any trip or job for only K2,000. In all this he
underwent no test.

We have become a nation divided into two parts: willing buyers and willing sellers of corrupt practices. Corruption thrives because of us, because we encourage it,
because we curse it in public while taking part in it in private.

We are a nation of corrupt presidents, corrupt cabinet ministers, corrupt principal secretaries, corrupt civil servants, corrupt private sectors, corrupt prophets and
corrupt churches.

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Of churches, for instance, it is possible to bribe church elders for you to marry your girlfriend even if she is pregnant, a violation of ecclesiastical rules. And with
prophets claiming to walk on air when all they have done is to ask two bouncers to lift them up, there is no hope that anyone out there will rescue our country from
falling into the abyss of despair.

Bright Mhango bought the yellow fever certificate from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, but he got the medical certificate from a private clinic, a clear indication
that corruption knows no public/ private sector divide.

Our police is corrupt and so is the army; for the latter, a former army-general and a former lieutenant-general are, in fact, answering charges connected to hundreds of
millions of kwacha siphoned during the Cashgate Scandal.

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A K400 million police uniform scandal died a natural death, perhaps because too many well-connected individuals were involved in it.

While 2015 saw 15 convictions in the K20 billion Cashgate Scandal that took place when Joyce Banda was president, little progress was made with regard to the K577
billion that took place both under Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda.

It was encouraging to hear this week that donors are determined to pursue the matter to its logical conclusion.

With anti-corruption official Issa Njauju mysteriously murdered and a German diplomat robbed at gunpoint in his home, your columnist agrees that security is of
paramount importance in this matter. Auditors should do their work under tight security, and those of us in the media should take care not to publish sensitive
information recklessly.

It is hoped, however, that when the audit report is given to the Auditor-General at the end of the audit, there will not be monkey tricks to hide information from the
public.

There must be no sacred cows.

But what can be done for this evil of corruption to stop haunting our country?

The answer lies in you and me. We need to stop feeding on corruption and watering it.

When we go to Indian shops, we must not accept the Indian shopkeeper to give us two prices, one for those who do not need a receipt and the other for those who need a
receipt.

Any shopkeeper who tells you about no receipt is in fact stealing from your government, because the value-added tax is what your government needs to run.

Any traffic policeman who stops you and asks you for a bribe – tell him that you would rather get a receipt for the fine, instead of paying cash that goes straight into
his pocket.

The change will need to start with our minds.

Alick, a friend based in Japan, recently bought a car. He got a phone call from Malawi, asking him to pay a little something at customs for the car to be cleared
without paying all the necessary taxes. He refused and told the caller that he was ready to pay the tax.

I wish we were all like Alick.

Over the last 10 years, 35 percent of public funds have been lost to corruption, the worst of any government in the world. Donors left because we are corrupt.

Elsewhere, politicians attain power to change people’s lives and leave a legacy. Here in Malawi, politicians attain power to get rich, to become big men, and legacy is
the last thing on their minds. Probably if you were to ask them, they would say, ‘Legacy? What legacy? I don’t eat legacy.’

Worse, we lack leadership that can seriously tackle the evil of corruption because, anyway, each leader we choose comes in tainted and with no intention of seriously
fighting corruption.

Lest we forget, before Peter Mutharika became president, he bought a house from the Malawi Housing Corporation — a public entity — for a song, in very questionable
circumstances.

We need a John Magufuli approach to tackling corruption. If you suddenly accumulate inexplicable riches, then auditors ought to trace your wealth to its source. People
do not just get rich from nowhere.

In short, we need a lifestyle audit. Magufuli ordered one for the revenue authority in Tanzania. He has not time for jokes when it comes to tackling corruption.

More importantly, we need a change of mindset. Each of us needs to declare corruption an enemy of progress, just like hunger, disease and envy.

Each of us needs to refuse taking part in corruption, and to report it when it occurs.

It’s regrettable, of course, that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) does not take action on cases that pertain to those with connection to the ruling elite. Case in
point: recently, a brother to a highly connected commissioner at the Malawi Revenue Authority cleared containers at less than 45 percent of usual taxes for an Indian
trader based in Limbe. The ACB took absolutely no action on the matter, although it was reported.

The ACB will remain a useless tool for those in power as long as it is not independent. Selective prosecution of corruption cases will not end corruption.

It will aggravate it.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, dear readers. This column has been running for half a year now, and it is here to stay.

Looking forward to sharing perspectives on current affairs in 2016.

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