Wise One: Malawi anti-corruption conferencing, penny-wise and pound-foolish

In order to appear ‘serious’ about fighting corruption, some chump in President Peter Mutharika’s administration came up with the totally ridiculous idea of holding a National Anti-Corruption Conference.

This idea, if intended to sweeten the bitter pill Malawians are swallowing everyday due to Mutharika’s lack of back bone in fighting corruption, has in fact achieved the opposite.

Prof. Patrick Lumumba from Kenya making a presentation at the conference(C)govati Nyirenda. Mana

It has demonstrated to the donor community, the eminent Prof. Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, and a host of other dignitaries that Malawi has a sitting duck for a president, a post turtle  if you want, surrounded by either fellow post turtles or the most corrupt cabinet on the face of the earth.

Why am I making this rather rough assessment?

First, corruption is not new in Malawi or globally. Therefore, national conferences – especially high level ones – can surface nothing new. What is required at national level is action, action and more action.

Secondly, Malawians generally emulate their leaders. And with the leadership having proved that it loves protecting pals tainted with corruption in both new and old corruption cases, the rank and file in the civil service are just doing whatever petty corruption they can at their level.

Thirdly, we have had the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for some time now. Despite the teething challenges it faced under Bakili Muluzi’s leadership, I can name two high profile people it successfully convicted for corruption: former General Manager of the Petroleum Control Commission (PCC), Dennis Spax John Kambalame  and former Works and Supplies Minister Abdul Pillane.

In all probability, these people were close to Muluzi. But when push came to shove, he let them go. Whether they were sacrificed for something and someone bigger, that is debate for another day.

BUT fact is: at least two people: a former minister and a former general manager of what used to be the most powerful parastatal were convicted.

Can this happen under Peter Mutharika?

Now, everyone knows that Muluzi was historically ‘untrustworthy’ with other peoples’ money. But today, he can stand and claim that under his tenure, the ACB netted the two I have mentioned above.

If even Muluzi – given his chequered history when we factor the six pounds into the equation – can do better than Peter Mutharika, the word ‘hopeless’ does not even begin to describe Peter Mutharika and his wholehearted refusal to fight corruption.

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Under Bingu wa Mutharika, one time Education Minister Yusuf Mwawa is a living witness. And then there is Muluzi himself who in the days of Bingu, was spending more time in hospitals than outside, something that has mysteriously changed under Peter Mutharika.

This is surprising because for most people, age brings more complications, and not more robust health.

Anyway, lucky him, he must have exceptionally ‘robust’ DNA.

With all these feats in its early years, one would have thought the ACB has now garnered what is termed institutional memory and is now more proficient, efficient and effective in investigating and successfully prosecuting the corrupt.

But under Peter Mutharika, happening is the opposite.

The ACB’s capacity and ability have severely deteriorated, so much so that calling it a toothless bulldog is a misnomer. ACB, under the presidency of Peter Mutharika, is a sheep in sheep’s clothing.

I am not done yet.

Following the proceedings over the two days, I could not help but feel a great sense of déjà vu.

Look at this: we messed up on the maize importation and immediately – without drawing a single lesson from the billion Kwacha heist-to-be – we now have on our hands a US$500 million contract which leaves a lot to be desired.

On the first day of the National Anti- Corruption Conference taking place in Lilongwe, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Malawi, Marcel Gerrmann, spoke on behalf of the development partners where he openly said corruption in the country is rampant and growing.

Gerrmann specifically pointed out procurements of large scare purchases of maize and the Salima-Lilongwe Water Project as examples of cases where procedures have not been adhered to.

He said: “Over the last year, we have witnessed questionable procurements around large-scale purchases of maize and more recently, the awarding of a large contract to pump water from Salima to Lilongwe.

“What messages are being sent if a $500 million contract takes place under restricted tender within a very short timeframe and more so without feasibility studies and environmental impact assessment?” he queried. The Daily Times

And against all these, I am failing to find the words with which to adequately describe the current Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu’s shocking denial of the obvious.

While I have to give it to him for admitting that corruption continues pervading Malawi and that indeed: “Everyone must take it as their responsibility to fight corruption”;

While I thank him for organising the two-day conference, whose purpose – in his words – was “to give us an opportunity to vent our anger and frustration” at the levels of corruption in Malawi;

I completely disagree with his blatant lie that “the existence of political will is evident”.

Let me school the learned minister on what political will constitutes so that next time he opens his mouth, he gets this bit right.

Political will, as far as I am concerned, is the commitment of actors (in this case Mutharika and his cabinet) to undertake actions to achieve a set of objectives (in this instance, reduced corruption) and to sustain the costs (costs can be in both monetary terms or political terms e.g. losing political bed mates) of those actions.

Now with respect to Mutharika:

  • What commitment other than yappy, yappy and more yappy has he demonstrated? (George Chaponda, by the way, does not count because Mutharika’s hand was pushed.)
  • Has he shown any willingness to pay the cost of losing friends and party stalwarts implicated in current or 11 years old corruption cases?

The answer is: Peter Mutharika has miserably failed on both counts.

In other words, Malawi’s fight against corruption is dodged by presidential “Political won’t”, the very opposite of the “political will” Tembenu would want the world to believe exists in Malawi.

Having said that, where Tembenu irritated me the most is his stubborn reluctance to free the ACB, by among other things, changing the manner in which the Director is appointed.

He said: “How far are perceptions that the work of the ACB is interfered with? Is it in the manner of appointment? When the President makes an appointment, Parliament has the duty to confirm it. Parliament even has the power to confirm the dismissal.”

This, Tembenu and Lucas Kondowe – the current ACB czar know is a load of bull.

Fact is Lucas seeks and gets instructions from the State House to arrest and in some cases to even investigate corruption incidences which would make the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) look bad.

I therefore want to reiterate what keynote speaker, Kenyan lawyer and staunch Pan-Africanist, Patrick Lumumba, said.

Corruption can only be fully fought if presidents are the top crusaders of the fight against the vice. In other words, the day Peter Mutharika musters the elusive “political will” is the day we will begin fighting corruption in Malawi. Conferences are a waste of everybody’s time.

BUT, as long “political won’t” persists, no amount of two-day conferences, under whatever catchy themes, will change the fact that Perter Mutharika has erased all the gains Malawi and the ACB made over the years in the fight against the corruption.

I rest my case.


Post Script:

You want to know which legal firm represented the State in Criminal Case No. 108 OF 2002, the State vs Dennis Spax John Kambalame?  Surprise, surprise:  Tembenu and Masumbu were Counsel for the State.

How the mighty have fallen!

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Hazrat Abdul Pillane
Hazrat Abdul Pillane
5 years ago

Just for your information Mr Abdul Pillane was never convicted. Please check your facts well before you go public with false information. What everyone knows is that Mr Pillane never served a jail sentence, he was acquitted of the allegations. Let his soul rest in peace.

Wandale wamyee
Wandale wamyee
5 years ago

Wise One, You have driven home the nail. I really don’t know what the Malawi government wanted to achieve by organizing this conference because we all know that corruption is rampant in the country. We also know that lack of political will is the major reason there is no progress in the fight. Since the people in higher authority including the president and his cabinet are the major culprits, the whole of people in public service are just following through knowing that they cant be checked. I don’t know why we had to hold a conference when the facts are… Read more »

tozer tsono
tozer tsono
5 years ago

I like this piece but like the conference it criticizes, it misses the major point. If a President of Malawi has to lead in the fight against corruption, he/she should not be above the law. For as long as the president and the cabinet are above the law due to the immunity clause in the Malawi constitution, expect nothing to happen to fight or stem out corruption. Secondly, Malawians are not treating corruption as an emergency situation for which to force any leader to account. The ACB, therefore has very little effect because the organization can be manipulated either by… Read more »

thitherward wendo
thitherward wendo
5 years ago

With all due respect, Mr Wise, your ears deceived you. The Minister did not say: “The existence of political WILL is evident.” He said: “the existence of a political WELL is evident.”

This was a reference to the well down which the nation’s revenues are thrown. Ministers, their families and friends can then – at their convenience – throw down a bucket and withdraw funds as required. The system works very for those involved.

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