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We can do better on anti-corruption drive

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The country is doing a serious soul-search in its efforts to fight corruption. At the opening of a conference on corruption in Lilongwe on Thursday, representatives of Malawi’s development partners expressed concern that the fight is slow.

Such sentiments are not new as different sectors of society have expressed similar issues before.

It is encouraging that the country has structures and pieces of legislation to deal with the bane that is corruption. What is of concern, though, is that just as was the case at the start of this fight, some 20 years ago, the fight is mainly targeting small fishes.

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Grand corruption has been treated with kid gloves and has even birthed other forms of evils such as calculated corruption. This is a form of corruption where public officers and suppliers of goods and services are weighing the benefits of their criminal acts and the potential punishments.

Many Malawians would be prepared to spend three years behind the bars if they steal K100 million. In any case, they will only serve two-thirds of such sentences. Once they are out, they would enjoy the proceeds of such crimes and their families would forever say bye to poverty. Examples of such crimes abound.

We have seen the government’s officials dismissing results of surveys that lay bare levels of corruption in the country. Those who carry out such researches are labelled as incompetent and unpatriotic.

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But I would think that both the government and its critics are saying the same thing albeit on different platforms. The private media has been targeted for its anti-corruption stance just as the case has been with human rights activists.

However, taking his turn at the Lilongwe conference, Justice Minister, Samuel Tembenu, acknowledged the crucial role the media have played in saving the country’s resources. The minister then asked all stakeholders, including the media, to join hands in the fight.

The government’s admission, through the minister, offers us a clean slate to chart the way forward. The government and its backers must take it positively that its critics mean a lot of good for Malawi.

The critics are also passengers on the bus that is Malawi. But these passengers have jumped out to check what is making the ride so bumpy. They have discovered that the crew is reversing the bus towards a ravine. Their screaming and waving of red flags is meant to save the crew, passengers and the bus. What they are saying is that if we continue on the path that we have taken, the bus will plunge into a dangerous gorge.

They are not saying that the crew members are incompetent or bad. Neither are they saying that their driving licence must be revoked and the crew referred back to a driving school. No! The critics are only providing suggestions on how to avoid a staged accident.

We need to tap into the advice by Professor Patrick Lumumba who truly said that the remedy to this malaise includes hanging a few top dogs such as a cabinet minister or a principal secretary. Once such high ranking officials are booked and successfully prosecuted, it will send strong signals that the leadership is serious and committed to ending corruption.

But as long as the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) takes until-heavens-come to conclude one single case, then corrupt minds will continue to blossom. What surprises many is that, once the suspects have fallen from grace, the ACB becomes swift in its investigations.

It is apparent that corrupt officials are also taking advantage of poor planning in the public sector when it comes to grand projects. Public officials get caught up by events and decide to cut corners. It is fashionable in the public sector to hear lines such as “it was like the house was on fire and a child risked burning inside it. So we had to go through the window…” or “this is a crisis and if nothing is done urgently, we are bound to perish.”

Sadly, after breaking into the house, we end up realising that there was no child trapped in it and the smoke that we saw billowed from a braai as corrupt officials were busy partying. We also discover that the referred crisis was just a figment of poor imagination.

It is high time the country moved forward and sacrificed a few corrupt lambs than to keep on moving in circles about corruption.

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