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Editorial CommentOpinion & Analysis

Time to act on corruption is now

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In a conversation with Queen Elizabeth II ahead of an anti-corruption summit last May, the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron clearly had Nigeria and Afghanistan in his sights when he labelled “fantastically corrupt”.

While Malawi may not have been on his mind, the country has built a solid reputation for brooding corruption that it would fit smugly into the bracket of fantastically corrupt countries.

In its Corruption Perception Index, the Transparency International has consistently rated Malawi poorly, with the results deteriorating year on year. Yet, the country’s leadership has always been contemptuous of such assessments as too subjective and not reflective of the attempts that are being made to reverse the trend.

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But it will be a long and arduous walk before Malawi becomes the poster boy for transparency, if the verdict passed by development partners and a renowned anti-corruption crusader is anything to go by.

Anti-corruption activist Patrick Lumumba and development partners—represented by European Union Ambassador to Malawi Marchel Gerrmann— delivered a verdict that should be worrisome, but hardly surprising, to long-suffering Malawians, and food for thought to a government that is reluctant to face the harsh reality.

The verdict was: it is the leadership, stupid!

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A few years ago, development partners abandoned the Malawi Government due to a toxic combination of worsening democratic governance and financial imprudence. That none of the major donors have yet to trust the public finance management systems should be concerning to a government that has made itself immune to learning from past mistakes and making amends.

How can donors return when government financial management systems remain in disarray and public officers show no sign of curbing their avarice?

How can the government claim to be making genuine attempts to deal with corruption when the leadership casts aspersions on the professionalism of the media and the civil society organisations for pointing out malfeasance in the procurement of maize from Zambia, even before it had gotten to the bottom of the matter?

Indeed, how can a government claim to conduct its business above board when it is dismissive of claims of law breaking in the award of the Salima-Lilongwe Water Project? The sad part of this is that even opposition parties, which people consider the bulwark against government excesses, seems to acquiescence to a process that has a shade of corruption.

The leadership, as usual, has been contemptuous of the voices from the media and some civil society organisations on their concerns on these and many more.

President Peter Mutharika has repeatedly spoken of his government’s attempts to curb corruption, but anyone familiar with Malawi knows he is only paying lip-service. Corruption has become an industry in itself and grandstanding on the matter hardly conveys any confidence in the government’s ability. Do we need foreigners to tell us that we are corrupt almost beyond redemption?

Now is the time to deal decisively against corruption and engage less talk.

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