Malawi Citizens Leverage Social Media to Fight Public Finance Mismanagement
Julius Zimwatha Mithi is an ardent Malawian Facebook user. Apart from posting humors, he also uses his page to expose alleged cases of corruption and public funds mismanagement.
Mithi says with the changing digital world, he finds social media as an easy tool to use in holding public officers accountable.
“Almost everyone in this era is using Facebook because it can reach several stakeholders without any hindrance. I thought of using that one as the model of communicating to those people who can get the truth from that end. I still feel that Facebook is the right channel to communicate to the public,” he said.
Mithi says his posts about public finance mismanagement in public offices have gained him public trust to the extent that people provide him with confidential documents to publish as a way of holding officers accountable.
“It shows that not all the people would be happy with what happens. Some would be honest and they would not like to be part of the malpractices that happen in such an institution.
“They would rather share that information that they know is wrong. They are the people that are deprived of their rights. They come to me and explain and leak the documents about the people who want to steal from Malawians because they wish the country well,” he said.
Mithi has encouraged Malawians of goodwill in the country and outside “not to be afraid. This is our only country where we can live. People are becoming poorer and poorer and very few are becoming rich. Let us expose these people.”
He added that people must, however, be responsible when using social media to expose rot by not spreading fake news or mudslinging each other.
Mithi is just one of many people who are using social media to expose cases of corruption and public finance mismanagement in the country.
The Anti-Corruption Bureau Spokesperson, Egrita Ndala, says many people use Facebook to report such issues among the social media tools.
Ndala says the Bureau directs some of the people to the right procedure of reporting cases to the Bureau.
“We encourage the people to use the right channel to lodge a complaint for us to take action. We tell them to call our toll free number as one of the channels. This also protects them as whistleblowers,” Ndala said.
Ndala added that they are also using social media to educate the masses and raise awareness about the vice.
Executive director of the Center for Social Accountability and Transparency, Willy Kambwandira, says people resort to using proxies on social media to expose corruption because they do not feel safe as whistleblowers.
“You will see that those proxies leak confidential documents that expose funds mismanagement in public offices. Unlike in other countries, whistleblowers in the country are not protected. Leakages of confidential documents show that people have interest to expose rot but they need a whistleblower protection policy,” he said.
Kambwandira says his organization receives complaints about mismanagement in councils through various channels.
“We take action by taking up such complaints to the councils for further action,” he said.
The European Union ambassador to Malawi, Rune Skinnebach, says that public funds belong to the people of Malawi and that those who are entrusted with allocating and spending the funds are therefore accountable to the people of Malawi.
“Thus, any mismanagement of public funds deserves to be exposed. That said, accountability processes are in place, and institutions are mandated to apply these, investigate and if need be, recommend for prosecution those cases where there may be grounds to do so.
“I can see how social media is used to supplement these, perhaps to bring alleged or suspected cases to light. There is a clear risk to this, as anonymous posting of often rumour-based information on social media allows for unfounded accusations, which can have devastating consequences for any individuals wrongly accused,” he said.
Skinnebach added that with democracy come rights and obligations, saying each right has its mirror image in an obligation.
“Citizens have a right to know how public funds are spent. The obligation that comes with this, is indeed to hold authorities accountable. On the side of the authorities, they are entrusted with management of public funds. This comes with a huge responsibility in terms of the sound management of these funds for the greatest possible benefit of Malawi, as a country - and thus, with the obligation to be transparent and accountable,” he said.
“Digitalisation facilitates access to information, and also the proper documentation of that information. Digital systems allow for sharing of this information, between institutions and with the public, and also facilitates communication and knowledge - these are all pivotal in the fight against corruption and mismanagement of public funds.
“Therefore, I am convinced that digitalisation can help the fight against corruption and public funds mismanagement along with human rights violations, and other forms of crime. Yet, we also need to think about how to protect citizens' right to privacy, so it comes down to weighing all factors, setting well-calibrated policies, and most of all, implementing them,” he added.