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Let us be honest, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Malawi is overstretched.
Even before any real big fish have been caught in its net, the ACB appears to be in trouble. Not entirely in a bad way , in fact the ACB is facing the good type of trouble in that never in its entire history has Malawi’s graft busting body have had to pursue so many allegations of corruption made against so many individuals and companies (some of whom are not even Malawian) in such a short space of time.
So, the big questions: Can the ACB cope with all the evidence and allegations currently coming out? I mean, does the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) have the capacity to successfully handle all the corruption cases in Malawi? Will they be able to effectively pursue each lead? And not just arresting suspects who are then subsequently released on bail, but ensuring that arrests end in successful prosecutions that lead to convictions.
I have serious doubts. Already, people are questioning why suspects like Roza Mbilizi and others have been released on bail. Malawians are also asking whether some of these arrests will go down the way of cases such as that against former budget director Paul Mphwiyo – who the High Court in Lilongwe ruled in May that he has a case to answer in relation to the MK2.4 billion Cashgate corruption case. It’s been 6 years, but Mphwiyo is still a free man.
Also, where was the ACB when corruption allegations regarding some of these cases were floating around?
I think for corruption to be effectively tackled in Malawi we need a new institution, one with far-reaching powers, a new mandate and a clear(er) objective.
We need an organisation that is staffed with new blood, that will adopt a new way of thinking and that is not hounded by old allegiances or suspect sympathies. What Malawi needs is a new Anti-corruption body that has zero links or partiality towards political parties; a truly independent institution that is only answerable to parliament, with no entanglements to DPP, PP, UDF, MCP, UTM or any other institution.
Unfortunately, that can’t be said of the current ACB and Reyneck Matemba, the ACB’s current Director General, knows it.
Remember here (external link) how the ACB’s current top sheriff complained about some of the difficulties he faced when pursuing suspects (also see the video below)?
Yes, have all those challenges suddenly gone away?
Of course, no one is suggesting that the ACB should be 100% perfect. But being imperfect should not be an excuse to have sacred cows. Further, with the scale of theft which President Lazarus Chakwera recently estimated to be K1 trillion (over $1.3 billion), you’d think that the bodies tasked with clamping down on corruption are going to be particularly powerful; with dogged prosecutors and an unflinching determination to get to the bottom of every single case.
Further, how likely is it that the ACB can for example concurrently commence court proceedings in the courts of London, Portugal, Switzerland or Qatar against suspects who many Malawians suspect have acquired or hidden the proceeds of corruptions in those countries – by virtue of sudden unexplained wealth which some of those suspects flaunt? The current ACB doesn’t have capacity to manage international parallel corruption probes. They would probably struggle, and it would take months if not years to go after funds that have been externalised.
Let us ask this same question in a different way: Can the ACB start investigating the houses which certain public figures in Malawi have bought in foreign countries? Houses bought in the UK; the flats and houses bought in the US, the millions that have flowed into South Africa? If so, when will they start following the money trail?
Instead of trying to get answers with an imperfect and compromised body, I believe what is needed is a clean slate. A fresh start. A new beginning: what is needed is the National Fraud Agency (NFA).
Malawi’s National Fraud Agency (NFA) should have powers to levy fines, powers to cancel contracts which were not signed in the best interests of the country or its citizens, and powers to impound, detain and forfeit goods, and to go after money and foreign property of officials or citizens (which is suspected of being bought using the proceeds of corruption) until the suspect can prove that such funds or property were earned legitimately, and that tax has been paid on them. The organisation should be established specifically to look at the issue of declaration of assets, externalisation of forex, to scrutinise government spending, tender awards and government contracts, and to prevent extortionate prices being charged for goods supplied to the Malawi government or to public agencies.
The NFA can work with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, but it has to be independent of the ACB. Parliament and PAC should establish a framework that decides how the NFA’s powers are to be exercised. This is important to make sure that the theft of public resources that has occured in the past in one guise or another, perpetrated by public officials including ministers, should be firmly and resolutely put to an end.
Thus, Malawi’s NFA would ensure that there is transparency and accountability, and would establish a high standard of ethics in Malawi’s politics. It would also ensure that if wrong-doing does occur, a course of action that swiftly and decisively rectifies the situation can be implemented without delay. It means unscrupulous officials can be cut-off from the business of government sooner than later, and cannot run away abroad with the proceeds of corruption – and feel as though they are beyond the reach of the law. It also means that the onus would be on the suspects to prove that they are innocent, and that their wealth, money earned or property is legitimate, and that they have paid tax on it – in accordance with Malawi’s laws. To take President Lazarus Chakwera’s lingo, it expediates justice on the “dross of sycophants“