Britain calls for action on Malawi corruption: ‘No selective justice’

Britain has called on Malawi government to go deeper in the crackdown on corruption and said there should be no “selective arrests depending on which side of the political fence one sits, or who in power one knows.”

The British High Commissioner to Malawi, Michael Nevin, made the remarks in Lilongwe during the presentation of investigative media award and corruption debate.

The diplomat noted that there have been “some positive developments” over the past year or so in fighting corruption.

Nevin: Cashgate may be an opportunity, but the jury is still out on whether that opportunity will be taken
Nevin: Cashgate may be an opportunity, but the jury is still out on whether
that opportunity will be taken

“I welcome action taken both by the previous government, and by the current one. We have seen senior officials and some with political connections – long said to be a guarantee of protection – appear in court. And I trust it will not end there,” noted Nevin.

He also noted that during the Joyce Banda government, Parliament passed a potentially far-reaching Assets Declaration, Liabilities and Business Interests Act.

This year, the diplomat noted that the budget, despite severe constraints, gave an unprecedented uplift to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) and other law enforcement agencies.

“The President has made very clear his determination to stop corruption and get to the bottom of Cashgate, fraud and corruption generally, even if it means going back to activities of the previous DPP administration,” said Nevin.

However, the British envoy said “while commitments and promises like this against corruption are extremely necessary and welcome, we want to see more action and impact. “

He said t he UK has always had zero tolerance for corruption and that “now the emphasis is on the government showing that it is on the attack against it, and is preventing it.”

Nevin said Britain is “willing to assist further, but need the authorities to take the initiative.”

The envoy said studies have shown that the essential ingredient in the fight against corruption is genuine political will, saying “without it, increased resources and assistance will have limited effect.”

He said: “I would suggest that means no more selective arrests depending on which side of the political fence one sits, or who in power one knows. No more by-passing rules and procedures. No more only reshuffling of officials when they have done wrong or have been derelict in their duty. No more passing the buck between departments, agencies or individuals for responsibility. No more accepting what is being claimed, without verifiable checks.  No more long case delays that frustrate justice. No more lack of response to complaints to ministries, police, ACB e.  No more underfunding for accountability institutions. No more ignoring audit findings or warnings in reports. No more conflicts of interest or questionable support from well-wishers”.

Nevin said effective crackdown on corruption will need the ACB, police, Financial Intelligence Unit, the Malawi Revenue Authority and the Director of Public Prosecutions working together and proving that they can deliver.

“It means the government ensuring these institutions have their independence to do so. It means the prosecutors being better prepared and the judiciary stricter in denying unnecessary adjournments and delays, and delivering judgements.

“It means doing more to recover assets. It means ensuring a transparent and level playing field for business, so that competition rather than corruption wins contracts. It means asking for international assistance when it is clearly needed, and implementing sound advice when it is provided.

“It means ensuring that procurement processes are transparent and that public financial management systems are robust adhered to and regularly checked.”

Nevin said the looting of public money in government christened as ‘Cashgate’,  may be “an opportunity, but the jury is still out on whether that opportunity will be taken; on whether government financial and procurement systems will be made secure, and will remain so; whether there is indeed the political will – over and above familiar promises – to really address corruption; whether there is the will to deliver comprehensive public sector reform that creates the conditions for more officials to feel pride and be better able to serve their country, removing those who only look after themselves.”

The British envoy noted that it “seems to be the direction that [Mutharika] government is setting.”

“We encourage that and look forward to the results, assisting where we can.”

However, Nevin said it also needs the media to keep playing its watchdog role, “without fear or favour, helping Malawi to reverse direction.”

Nevin pointed out that media’s role in promoting accountability and good governance is critical.

“To fulfil that role, journalists will often have to conduct research, pursue leads and then construct a narrative which exposes malpractice that those involved would rather not have scrutinised,” he advised.

He praised the Malawi media “that has exposed scandals and helped galvanise action” saying “without the media, for example – and I include social media – I doubt we would have had the progress we have had so far on Cashgate.”

But said there have been complaints about inaccurate reporting, “Even journalists being paid to misreport or place false stories.”

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