Our role in the fight against corruption in Malawi

This piece of paper on corruption is related to the cash-gate scandal in government and is intended to illustrate a picture of a position that we may take if indeed the majority of us outside the government structures (civil service) will love to have reduced levels of such an evil in this country.

This, however, doesn’t imply that all civil servants are involved in corruption. The paper doesn’t merely aim at describing what corruption is all about or what has been happening so far but also and probably, most importantly denoting our role in the battle against this vice.

To begin with, let me describe what corruption is and the context in which this word should be understood in this write up. My hope is that by being able to define the word corruption, we can understand how to prevent or deal with it. For instance, to treat a snake bite, you must know what type of snake it is.

The Latin verb for the word corruption is rumpere, which means to break. According to this perspective, corruption occurs where the law is clearly broken.corruption-poster-reuters

This, therefore, requires that all laws must be precisely stated, leaving no doubts about their meaning and no discretion to the public officials.

John A. Gardiner, 1993 argues that if the official’s act is prohibited by the laws established by the government, then it is corruption; if it is not prohibited, it is not corrupt even if it is abusive and unethical in nature. Looking at or trying to understand corrupt practices from the legal perspective, serves to underline a deterioration of self-regulated behavior and usher heavy dependence on legal approach to determine right from wrong.

The 2004/2005 report by Global Competitiveness stated that though an act is committed within legal parameters it may lie outside moral boundaries. In the same vein, a corrupt act may be camouflaged by lawful justification.

From this line of thinking, corruption should be understood to include undue influence over public policies, institutions, laws and regulations by vested private interests at the expense of the public interest. Simply put, it is the misuse of public resources for personal gains.

The question, which may need to be answered by all, is whether legal approach to the fight against corruption in Malawi is absolutely adequate without some socio-cultural/behavioral change?

Public awareness about corrupt practices in civil service in Malawi is not the thing of the present but rather the past. Though Malawians differ in age categories, levels of education, body colors and heights, priorities over rights, beliefs, socio-economical attainments, and political party affiliations, they have one major commonality and thus one MALAWI, which should benefit all with its resources ( financial, natural, human, e.t.c) regardless of their differences. For this reason, we need to rise above our differences and call corruption by its actual name in order for us to succeed in battling against it.

Accepting that corruption cases were in existent in the time of MCP, UDF, and DPP is not equal to saying that these parties condoned corruption. On the contrary, it will help Malawians select a suitable approach in dealing with this barbaric conduct.

Mind you, corruption can be systematic or sporadic, grand or petty. You need a strategic approach to deal with systematic corruption than sporadic one.

My strong viewpoint is that those that unveiled issues of corruption in the reign of UDF and DPP intended to inform and invite Malawians into the world of knowledge of what was happening in their country. Expectedly, the then leaderships and all Malawians were supposed to work together to deal with corruption.

It is so evident now that this rate of prevalence of corruption in this time of PP indicates that Malawians did little or nothing to reduce or stop the flow of this dirty water of corruption during the past regimes. “Muvi oyang’anira umalowa maso!”

Those that watch others doing evil are more to blame than the actual doers. I am not blaming fellow Malawians just as I am not blaming any leader but reasoning with you all to see where we miss the battle. If we are not going to be careful, we will end up fighting a wrong battle.

When Dr. Joyce Banda came into power, she didn’t pretend that she took over a corrupt free civil service structure. No! She acknowledged that corruption was still in existent and therefore strived to devise a mechanism or strategy to torpedo its rate of prevalence.

The first THING that the current president did to distinguish her leadership from the past regimes was to press an enough-is-enough button to corruption. Although she knew that as a the President she couldn’t succeed alone, her statements with reference to issues of corruption exhibit that her desire to succeed in fighting against corruption is greater than her fear of failure in dealing with it.

She understood very well what Albert Einstein meant when he said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”.

My argument is and has always been that if the then governments and all Malawians took an agreed approach in the fight against this unwanted weed the first time we learnt about it in government, believe you me or not, the level of its prevalence to date should have been tremendously reduced if not completely weeded out.

Up to this far, would you take a sober perspective to analyze who is actually to blame on this cash-gate scandal? What position or positions have we been taking in handling issues of corruption in Malawi? Is your answer to this a patriotic or another destructive position; change agent, sponsor, advocator or mere position filler masquerading in the names of our organizations or parties?

Dr. Joyce Banda set up structures that were aimed at improving efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public funds. Many of you, readers know and can remember that for the first time in Malawi, the list of bidders to supply services towards Farm Inputs Subsidy Program was subjected to financial auditing intended to give tenders to deservers. The results of such an audit revealed that a significant percentage of the bidders were not eligible.

For those who don’t probe or follow current issues/affairs with keen interest, may wish to be informed that the procurement system was also looked into!  Initially, junior officers were involved in procurement issues up until when that tradition was broken and replaced by heads of those departments and principal secretaries so that they can be responsible or answerable to procurement decisions.

And when the tragedy fell on Brother Paul Mphwiyo, the budget director, who was shot allegedly for his fight against corrupt practices, the president put in place an investigation, whose result has seen six people being arrested. I tried to reason with Malawians to be rational in their thinking when I spoke on Television Malawi that the dirt we are seeing coming out of the government today is indicative of the fact that someone is sweeping.

Instead of saying, well done for being a sacrificial lamb that can touch the dirty issues/stench, which many have avoided and let exist for so long, we are blaming the President for cleaning!

It is ridiculous and even more when I hear that many have threatened to hold demonstrations against this government. If the President and her government were not doing anything, it would make much more sense to advocate such actions. However, demonstrations intended to yields fruitful results, have ended up being fateful in the past.

We shouldn’t forget too quickly. What is disheartening is the fact that, those in positions use the youths like me to be in front during demonstrations, while they will have gone for a trip or stayed at home to such an extent that in case of anything bad, the youths become victims.

This is a clear cut contradiction of the fact that this Nation is borrowed from these youths and will have to be given back to them one day. The question is if we continue to use the youths to shield or die in our place, the aged, to who will this nation be handed tomorrow?

Besides, others have warned that they would influence private sector not to pay or remit tax up until the house (government), which has been too dirty for fifteen years or so is cleansed within few months.

My argument is who is a targeted culprit in holding tax? The government officials or you are indirectly punishing the rural vulnerable communities who cannot afford the private hospital biting charges or medical services? My answer is no different from that of a sincerely true to type Malawian.

What I thought was that citizens, consumers, producers, tax payers and any person or institution wishing this country well should look at what is happening now as an opportunity where they can lend a hand in dealing with this chronic disease. Together we can. Malawi doesn’t belong to the very few that hold political positions at a time. It belongs to all of us BUT with ONE LEADER at time.

Every coin has two sides. One side of this corruption scandal reveals that public funds have been being taken out of government coffers for personal enrichment and therefore those that took part need to face the law without favor. This is exactly what Dr. Joyce Banda is preaching almost at every podium.

The other side of the same coin unveils a window, which Malawians can use to strategically lend a hand to government in the fight against this evil. Taking role of a change agent or advocator can make us more relevant and useful in contributing to this issue than that position of a blamer, Judge, accuser, back-bitter, masquerader or spectator. The goodness is that the current leadership of Dr. Joyce Banda is willing to use available human, financial and physical resources to deal with corruption cases in Malawi.

In trying to slice the question I posed earlier on whether legal approach is absolutely sufficient in dealing with corruption or not, I would like to urge all Malawians to be responsible and active in this fight. There is a lot of corruption in our roads, those that drive in them might have witnessed or suffered in one way or the other.

Many times, this suffering that I refer to happens at will when one chooses to pay say MK 2000 for a fine of over-speeding against the MK5000.00 that the detesters of corruption painfully pay.

Many of those that pay MK 2000 could also be the ones that would want corruption to end in Malawi. My fellow Malawians it is not possible to eat your apple today and expect to have the same apple tomorrow. Our actions should always be continually and constantly consistent with our thinking.

Therefore, I would like to implore you that to oppose corruption in government either by reporting or contributing to strategies aimed at dealing with corruption, is the highest or noblest obligation of a true Malawian Citizen.

I also wish to advise those in various positions whether political or social by agreeing with Edward Abbey who said that, “Our institutions are too big; they represent not the best but the worst characteristics of human beings. By submitting to huge hierarchies of power, we gain freedom from personal responsibility for what we do and are forced to do- the seduction of it-but we lose the dignity of being real men and women.

Power corrupts and attracts the worst and corrupts the best…Refuse to participate in evil; insist on taking part in what is healthy, generous and responsible. Stand up, speak out and when necessary fight back. Get down off the fence and lend a hand, grab a-hold, be a citizen- not a subject”.

I wish to end by asking the president to continue walking her talk. These issues of corruption are in my view, opportunities or blessings in disguise. Your actions in handling these practical cases of corruption will speak sharply, piercingly and truly about your motives on the same. A genuine Malawian will never judge wrongly those whose actions help to deal with this endemic issue of corruption.

*The author is a social and political commentator. He is based in Nkhota-Kota. He is writing in his own right

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