Since Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) second coming to power, one existential hazard has dominated he national narrative – the reason Malawi is not developing
And one explanation is consistently advanced, namely poor, corrupt and self-serving leadership.
Regarding quality of leaders, it is perhaps tempting to resign to a curse. How so strange that since 1994 the vision of a once ticking society is dwarfed by a leadership that abandons people to fate!
Malawians are shackled by soulless leaders driven by self-interest manifested in the practice and tolerance of fraud and corruption.
Public resources are abused by self-selecting political and public elites with dispiriting impunity. What little gains are made never trickle down to the most in need.
Meanwhile, the economy is sluggard, uncompetitive and exploitative. The poor become poorer as the rich become mega rich overnight.
And the architects are hard-hearted. There is no compunction, no remorse and certainly no guilt. Instead, what you get are rude dismissals as though nothing about Malawians ever matters.
And the fact is beyond contest that Malawi is one of the most corrupt countries in Africa and the poorest as a result. Corruption has infected the executive, civil service and Parliament.
In this country, civil servants regard their offices as a business from which to extract extra-legal income, freely exploiting public positions to generate benefits for themselves, families and for institutions they share the loot with.
Officials are free to use public funds to support mundane private activities sanctioned by powerful politically aligned bureaucrats. None of such officials ever come to any harm.
Exploitative demons are unleashed upon parastatals effectively reduced to milk cows where executives condescend in spite of policy. From these reservoirs, public funds are splashed on party fundraising, celebration of ethnic festivals or party meetings without a word from authorities who should defend the law, justice and peace.
What form does corruption take?
Corrupt acts range from petty bribes taken from those who seek preferential service to more sophisticated deals involving allowances, to large-scale siphoning of huge sums via ghost workers or via funding to non-state development agencies.
Most highly valued corruption is deliberate mis-procurement where the biggest windfalls come from. Obscene sums in kickbacks change hands when large contracts are awarded to non-qualified relatives, friends or allies in theft. Two cases can illustrate this point.
The first known case of staged mis-procurement is the recent maize scam which started with inflated shortfalls to justify a huge abusable budget and soon escalated to involve a whole sector comprising the ministry, the minister, the only agriculture marketing corporation, private dealers and external companies posing as maize dealers.
The second is the still red-hot case of Salima-Lilongwe water development project awarded without feasibility and without impact assessments to a generous financier of both the ruling party and the opposition Malawi Congress Party.
Then there is the lesson from Cashgate which so far points to the fact that politicians, civil servants and business captains can connive in creating special companies to siphon money in seemingly legitimate business.
In this country, government institutions are a source for riches; a place where connivance is not only easy but safeguarded by a conspiracy of silence which effectively makes civil servants, politicians and businesspeople allies in perpetrating the evil that keeps millions poor.
Persistent corruption and abuse of public office is blight on our fledgling democracy, a huge drain on limited public finances. What is sad is that corruption has serious political costs which in the grips of the demonic spirit of mammon our leaders will not notice.
Both by research and by ordinary observation, trust in political leaders and government has flagged, voter disillusionment is rising and anger simmering. Ordinarily, this would be an imperative for Malawi to raise the standards of integrity urgently but I doubt it.
Rolf Alter an expert in public governance says curbing bribery among public officials and promoting responsible business conduct are important for countries wishing to create a level playing field for companies, to guarantee equitable market conditions and to build an investment climate that provides conditions for business development.
The message is simple. Corruption is not just about bribes. Business prospects are lost. Many development partners pull out. Poor and vulnerable people are getting hurt, some irreversibly.
It is clear. Malawi is losing it all. Painfully, the great expectation that was associated with DPP leadership is fading rapidly. But the leaders do not care. The needs of their families and cronies are far more important than the desperate people crying in the wilderness.
It is not as though nothing can be done; a lot can be done.
Foremost, Malawians must fight for the autonomy of regulatory organisations, and in this matter the opposition and civil society groups must not relent. In this connection, I also believe that those honoured with the management of these institutions must have the courage to do the right thing or admit complicity in the evil of ripping off the people.
Equally vital, punishing perpetrators of corruption is critically important in an effective anti-corruption drive but, of course, this is easier for leaders who have a sense of nation rather than tribe, family or friends.
My call is for Malawians to unite in getting leaders to put an end to impunity.
Why have laws if they are unenforceable? Why talk about peace and justice if the laws that assure peace and justice are applied selectively and differently?
Researchers working in governance are agreed how complex it is to build and sustain a public sector whose systems work; a sector of ethical employees with a sense of nation.
These are values that come out of transparent budgeting, transparent expenditure reporting and publicised budget control systems all of which increase participation and trust.
Countries which have been successful in curbing corruption also tend to have long traditions of government openness, freedom of press, transparency and access to information.
Investors have for long despised government red tape. It is time to cut the bureaucracy given the high correlation between incidence of corruption and extent of bureaucratic red tape. It is time to eliminate superfluous rules and regulations while strengthening regulatory roles of government for quality control
I hate subsidies, so I would agree with expert advice to eliminate subsidies for they not only distort incentives; they are fertile ground for corruption. Subsidies are often associated with the black market; they feed smuggling rings; and they create shortages instead of steady supplies.
It is common sense. In schemes that involve artificially low prices, both people and government are exposed to corruption. Subsidies are stupid political tools that enslave and undermine people’s dignity. It cannot be development strategy.
Broad-based public sector reforms such as government pursues are good but the pace and commitment are inadequate. Malawi needs focussed reforms targeted at improved financial management and stringent auditing. It needs financial management institutes and fiscal monitoring systems that stop illicit outflow of cash between banks and off-shore institutions.
Meanwhile, it has to be admitted that anti-corruption is a public initiative. A corrupt government will never destroy its own lifeline without organised people power. Citizens and civil society agencies must exercise the right and demand accountability from elected and public officials.
There has never been empathy between government and the media most of which is owned by politicians, families of politicians or business allies. Now that Malawians can access information, it is time to enable all people to demand transparency at all levels and ensure that the law is put to use.
Up to recent times, political power and control have impinged not only on the neutrality and independence of papers but the job security and survival of reporters who do not comply with the wishes of their masters.
The media and civil society should intensify their demand for freedom of press, freedom of expression and freedom of thought. Similarly, they should forge alliances with communities, intensifying projects monitoring and exposing fraud and corruption.
Yes, Malawi has had an anti-corruption body striving to secure public trust and good governance but the bureau, along with director of public prosecutions, suffers incessant political control. Again, media and civil society should not relent in exposing such manipulation.
The executive has tended to be most dominant in public matters, eclipsing the legislature and compromising essential checks and balances. In the absence of support from Parliament and opposition, it remains for the Judiciary and civil society to fight for separation of powers.
As we conclude, there is the counterproductive issue of attitude
Corruption while rife does not evoke strong enough public condemnation. Lack of indignation has normalised corruption. Leaders are neither remorseful. They never speak of corruption as an evil that calls for passionate collective action.
To the majority of Malawians, boma is a fierce institution in a realm external to their own sphere and are often content with drab undeserving existence.
This is a most extraordinary of attitude, with the result that sub-humanoid opportunistic leaders have prefect leeway.
But it is time to act and act together.
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