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Scheme of lawlessness

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Malawi has in the past years seen a frantic push to change some laws that are crucial in governance affairs.

The only challenge has been that most of the changes have been ineffectual because officers sanctioned to implement them have chosen to pay less attention to them.

There are also new laws drafted to further the democratic and governance project with the objectives of such laws failing to be met.

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Still more, there are proposals that ought to be taken into consideration to improve democracy and governance affairs in this country which are but ignored by authorities because they view the laws to be bottlenecks in their undertakings.

So, for 15 years, crucial provisions which were supposed to be incorporated in our Constitution after that comprehensive review whose results were published in 2007, are simply gathering dust on government shelves.

The sustained trust of people is important in the performance of Members of Parliament (MPs). So, experts who reviewed the Constitution concluded that the recall provision be retained in the supreme law.

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The idea was that such a provision would significantly help in ensuring the lawmakers represent the interests of their constituents.

But, because it largely touches on the status of someone being an MP, no single effort has been made to have the provision back in the Constitution.

Chances are also high that even if some minister of justice chooses to table the amendment in Parliament, it would not get the support that it rightly deserves.

So, MPs have nothing to fear even when they know that they have nothing to offer to their constituents.

They will fail to represent those who elected them and return to campaign for re-election for another term because what happens after the vote matters less.

That is a bad thing for democracy. People should have powers to recall their legislators who fail to do their job.

Many more provisions suggested in the 2007 Constitutional Review Report have been ignored by successive governments.

And that spirit is so entrenched in our governance system.

We have good laws that were developed to improve transparency, accountability and general governance affairs but the laws are blatantly ignored by authorities.

For instance, in a bid to check illicit accumulation of wealth by senior public officers, patriotic men and women of those days came up with the Public Officers Declaration of Assets and Business Liabilities law.

World over, assets declaration systems have increasingly become multipurpose tools aimed at preventing conflicts of interest, detecting unjustified assets and building. In Malawi, the law is being frowned upon with careless abandon.

Some officers who are supposed to declare their assets do not do so and have nothing to fear because they know that we are a country that seldom respects its own laws.

There are public officers who have not declared their assets but continue to work in their respective positions because no one is bold or professional enough to take action.

And there is a glaring problem: The assets directorate does not have powers to take disciplinary action on anyone who flouts provisions in the assets law. The directorate can only make recommendations to authorities who are supposed to act on them.

The higher authorities choose to ignore the recommendations and this scheme of lawlessness is too common to be ignored.

So, the essence of the law is being defeated by public officers who are reluctant to do the right thing and the larger message they send across is that every law is as effective as the officers who apply or implement it.

We have seen what happens with determinations of the Ombudsman.

It is very clear that government does not always treat such sanctions with the attention that they deserve. Otherwise, we would not be talking about hundreds of determinations not complied with even when the State never challenged them.

It is as though higher authorities realised that having such an office that is optimally functional would frustrate their freedom to act lawlessly.

As a country, if we really mean it when we talk about the rule of law, we must not cherry-pick which laws we should respect.

Every piece of legislation that is made for public use must be respected.

While it is true that some laws have deeper impacts than others, there is no excuse for failing to respect the so-called weaker ones.

What is quite clear in this prevalent scheme of lawlessness is that we can have as many good laws as possible but lack the corresponding positive outcomes because officers on which such laws apply are not willing to use them.

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