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Anti-Corruption Bureau At 25: The Journey Continues

Anti-Corruption Bureau At 25: The Journey Continues

In 1998, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) opened its doors in Malawi to fight corruption which affects development in many spheres. The first case was registered on 12th May in the same year, and it involved abuse of office at the country’s public broadcaster, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). 

The bureau now has offices in all the regions of the country, with a massive workforce of investigators and prosecutors which spreads across the country.

The country has registered grand corruption over the years, according to statistics. Some notable corruption cases registered include those involving high profile individuals such as former state president Bakili Muluzi, businessman Zuneth Satar and Vice President Saulos Chilima.

Since 2023, the ACB has been holding different events commemorating 25 years of its existence. Its director general Martha Chizuma describes the 25-year period as a mixed bag.

According to Chizuma, the bureau has registered 35,000 corruption cases since its inception, of which only 10,000 were investigated; and less than 1,000 taken to court. This according to Chizuma is due to varying reasons, one of which is the complexity of the cases which mostly involve grand corruption perpetrated by high profile individuals.

 “By their very nature, these cases are very difficult to investigate and prosecute because they attract a lot of challenges and good lawyers who may throw in spanners, so that even if they are to be investigated, it’s tough to prosecute them, and even if to prosecute, it’s not easy to complete prosecution and get conviction and justice as demanded by Malawians,” says Chizuma.

Chizuma cited an example of a ‘cash gate’ case involving Paul Mphwiyo which has dragged on for a long time without a conclusion. She said Malawians want to see cases investigated, prosecuted and people convicted, which has not been pleasing. She lamented that people demand justice but it takes too long to prosecute.

“As for the bureau, we see that things are well, but you know that for cases to move it needs the courts and lawyers because when we go to the courts, it’s one thing after another, procedures, legal points raised, but at the end of the day, the cases need to move,” she adds.

To ensure that justice is done, the bureau is seeking to have proceeds from corrupt transactions in the form of assets be recovered. To achieve this, the bureau says it is promoting lifestyle audits.

Establishment of Institutional Integrity Committees are another plus to ensure that government ministries, departments and agencies take a leading role in the fight.

According to Chizuma, different surveys that have been done over time have revealed that people are afraid to report corruption because there is no law that protects them, which calls for a need to come up with and operationalize the Whistleblower Protection Law. And according to her, the bureau has already found donors that will support the cause.

One of the biggest setbacks in the fight against corruption has been the push and shoves among some of the governance offices that should be at the center of the fight; these including the ACB itself, office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Attorney General’s office. It played out that the offices tried to outsmart each other in terms of who is mandated to do what, sparking fears that the fight would fall apart.

The ACB felt betrayed, because the DPP demanded that the ACB should seek permission from the office before prosecuting some cases which at the end of the day, needed prosecution which the ACB had to justify.

The current DPP Masauko Chamkakala has denied responding to what happened in the past between the two offices, but says that the relationship is now positive, not only when dealing with cases, but on initiatives that they undertake together.

Chamkakala laments that as a country though, we dwell too much on amplifying negatives than we do positives.

“As a country, we are only looking at negatives. Although there is a need for improvements, we are working together just fine in many things, even with other stakeholders. And I should mention that the significant progress that we have made as a country is because we work together. We may not notice, but after the Anti-Corruption Symposium that the ACB organized recently, we realized that we have done well. The visitors were actually amazed at the remarkable progress that we have made, not that we should over-celebrate, but start consolidating all the gains to make meaningful strides,” says Chamkakala.

The DPP hinted on tightening some loose ends in all the sectors, like the systems that independent institutions are setting up should be enhanced to have a strong foothold when fighting corruption because the type of corruption that happened years back or last year may be different from that in 2035, therefore it is paramount to move with time. And also the reason strong policies and laws are critical in the fight, he says.

Not only did the ACB face challenges. Even its director general was pushed in the fray that put to the test the fight against corruption. Her private chat on work-related matters with a friend got publicized, making her a target of public ridicule for allegedly disclosing office information which she took an oath for. It took the state president to stand by her side. Later, Chizuma said she wished different stakeholders should have been collaborating.

“We could do better. Yes we are working together with some offices. I’m not saying we are getting everything that we want, and wouldn’t say it is bad, no! I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent better, but by and far, we are now doing very well,” says Chizuma.

It has been noted by the graft-busting body that the most fertile ground for corruption in Malawi is public entities, especially in procurement. Public procurement remains the most fertile ground because that is probably where the private and public sectors meet, according to Chizuma. She thought that is a result of the systems and cultures.

“The systems and cultures there allow corruption to take place. Also corruption is largely contributed by political party financing which has been there for a long time. So regardless of which leadership is in those public institutions, those cultures remain and we just change the people while the systems remain the same,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets (PPDA), whose mandate is to regulate, monitor and carry out oversight functions of public procurement, says ACB’s concerns and sentiments are genuine, and the procedures need to be kept in check.

Its spokesperson Kate Kujaliwa says one of the most critical elements if corruption is to be defeated, is for responsible offices to join hands and work together, just as they did with the ACB during the monitoring exercise of road construction that they carried out.

“We have and are working together and very closely with the ACB. And we are putting up different mechanisms that can support the fight. For example, we launched a tip-off anonymous means of reporting corruption. Digital systems like the e-Government Procurement System, e-Government Marketplace System and open contracting were also set up to be used so that in the long run, Malawians should afford a smile that indeed, we have done something, says Kujaliwa.

The director general adds that the current progress however, is not encouraging, especially after 25 years of operations, and therefore suggested that law enforcement alone cannot help end corruption, because Law enforcement alone which is more focused on, does not address cultures and systems, but individuals.

“For me I would want to address the corruption systems and make them corruption resistant. There are good people with integrity in the public sector, ethical people who are working side by side with those corrupt, and if we paint them all bad, then we are not acknowledging their effort. There should be a way to separate them, and that is dealing with it, going by institution”.

Willy Kambwandira is a governance expert and executive director of Center for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT).  He said there is not really much to smile about.

Kambwandira said that while the country agrees to start engraving best practices and traditions in children, this should not be an excuse, as proper administrative sanctions which can assist in creating an enabling environment enough to defeat corruption are the most needed, coupled with a genuine application of anti-corruption laws.

He adds, “Political and executive interference lead to a lack of collaboration in responsible establishments like the ACB, DPP, Finance Intelligence Authority, the judiciary and even the police, if we are to have a strong and biting ACB. We should see arrests, investigations, prosecutions, and words should match actions. Only then shall Malawians be able to celebrate rendering a heavy blow to corruption.”

According to the ACB, it has managed to change the narrative that it arrests and prosecutes only those that have left government, as it now has cases in the courts involving some officials in the current government. It also said it has managed to make Malawians across the country, even in rural settings, to feel that corruption is evil and that the law will always keep a tail on everyone involved in the malpractice, and deal with them.

The question remains on what lies ahead in the fight against corruption, as Malawians demand speedy prosecution of cases and strong systems that will deter people from engaging in corrupt practices.

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Last modified on Monday, 08/01/2024

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