The news that the European Union (EU) and other development partners are demanding that Malawi government release the April 2017 high-level National Anti-Corruption Conference’s report as a matter of high priority is not surprising to some of us.
European Union Ambassador Marchel Germann is on record saying the development partners were still waiting for the official report of the Conference.
“We are still awaiting the official report of this conference [National Anti-Corruption Conference], including recommendations. We call on government to follow as a matter of high priority”, said Marchel as quoted in the Daily Times of 21 December 2017.
It must be said from the very onset – as one of the delegates who participated in both the conference and the preceding stakeholder consultations under the burner of Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC) –that stakeholders gathered during the conference told the government to go beyond rhetoric on corruption fight by ensuring that a clear road map translating the conference’s consensus was put in place.
While the idea and execution of both the national conference and preceding stakeholder consultations was good as it provided a critical juncture for the nation to openly deliberate on what was working and not working in the fight against corruption, what was of fundamental importance to the delegates and the general public was to eventually know how government would use the ideas solicited during this conference to improve the policy, legal and institutional framework in the fight against corruption. It is in this regard that the Anti-graft conference stakeholders demanded that government release the conference’s report with agreed recommendations and action points as soon as possible.
In response, government through both the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Hon. Samuel Tembenu SC and the Solicitor General Dr. Janet Banda assured the conference that government would act on their fears. The Solicitor General assured the delegates that all the resolutions would be sent to Cabinet verbatim for review before a report for the conference and the roadmap could be shared with stakeholders and the public.
Banda was quoted as follows in the Nation On Sunday: “There are many recommendations some of which the Minister could not cite but we will present everything to Cabinet. I think this is the first time as a Ministry of Justice we have hosted such a conference and we believe it is a success. We believe Malawians have been given an opportunity to shape the fight against corruption and will sincerely listen to their views”.
Tembenu echoed Banda’s sentiments by stressing that the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs would be examining the recommendations and advise the cabinet accordingly. He however said that for those [recommendations] that were implementable immediately, the government would proceed to do so.
Sadly, 8 months down the line the report detailing the action plan put in place to address the agreed resolutions as promised by both the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the Secretary of Justice has not been shared with the general public.No wonder the donors have risen up to simply remind government on its earlier commitments to release this report. Certainly, patronage and clientelism would perceive EU’s stance as interference in domestic affairs.
However, it is important to stress that donors just like all stakeholders are also concerned about the worsening state of corruption in the country, and this is the reason why they support both government and civil society interventions that are aimed at ridding the nation of this malpractice. Besides, the donors have all right to demand a report from government on a conference which they financially supported.
According to the Solicitor General as quoted in the Nation On Sunday of April 30, 2017, the “conference cost donors such as European Union (EU), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Oxfam and government some MK 20 million”.
Consequently, the continued failure to share the detailed report and action plan seems to give weight to the assertion that the conference was one of those window-dressing activities aimed at appeasing the general public and the development partners that something was being done to address the worsening corruption in the country. These assertions are further magnified by how the government has recently handled the electoral reforms issues despite its earlier commitments to table and support the same.
However, whatever the reasons that may be behind government’s continued procrastination – or call it reluctance- to release such a report the fact of the matter is that government must release such a report not only to donors but also the general public.
In the event that government does not take heed to calls for it to release such a report, Parliament should summon the Minister of Justice Tembenu SC to share this detailed report containing the action plan to implement the April’s Conference resolutions.
There are mainly three reasons, in my view, which mandates the National Assembly to summon the Minister of Justice and Constitution Affairs to share this Anti-graft Report. Firstly, by virtue of its representative and oversight roles, members of Parliament are accountable through the representation function to the people of Malawi while at the same time checking the actions of the executive arm of government in the best interest of the people of Malawi. As such, the National Assembly has an oversight role on the operations of the executive and all its establishments. And the April government’s organized Anti-Corruption conference was a matter of public interest as clearly evident by its composition – civil society, faith community, development partners, media, politicians and traditional leaders. Therefore its outcome deserves Parliament’s oversight scrutiny.
Besides, the Speaker of National Assembly and some parliamentarians participated in the conference which even adds more weight that the conference was not only of the executive arm’s interest but also of the legislature.
Secondly, the general public was informed through the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs that the conference cost Mk20 million with donors coughing a largest chunk. Whether the money came from donors or not there is need to demonstrate value for such a huge sum of moneys by showing the results emanating from such an intervention. It is in this regard that the need for the Minister of Justice to submit a detailed report to Parliament cannot be underestimated.
Thirdly, there was already a public consensus prior to and during the conference that corruption is not only a reality but also a serious form of injustice that offends human dignity with its far reaching and devastating effects on the political, economic, social and cultural stability and development of Malawi. As such it was agreed that drastic measures should be taken by government to curb it. The said measures were presented during the conference with the expectation that government would draw up a roadmap on how to address such.
In conclusion, some of the key issues that the said anti-graft conference report by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs before Parliament should address based on April conference resolutions include the following: the review of the anti-corruption strategy of 2008 and the development of a new anti-corruption strategy; the reduction of President’s powers on appointment of ACB’s chief; ACB’s independence; the review of Corrupt Practices Act and other laws that are related to combating corruption; strengthening whistle blowers legal framework; and the development of a National Anti-Corruption Policy.
While Malawi has an Anti-Corruption Strategy and a law [Corrupt Practices Act] there is no policy on Corruption. The absence of a policy means that there is no clear ownership, administration, coordination and implementation of anti-corruption drive. During the conference the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs indicated that government would develop a National Anti-Corruption Policy soon. When all is said and done, government is obliged to share a report and roadmap with the general public, besides the donors, on how it would implement the resolutions emanating from the April’s Anti-graft Conference. And one such forum is Parliament. Let Parliament summon Tembenu to present an Anti-graft report.
- Makhumbo Munthali is a final year Masters Student in the Political and Administrative Studies (PAS) Department at University of Malawi, Chancellor College.