Our country is broken because, over the years, we have moved away from fundamentals that help countries grow. I started talking about these fundamentals last week when I discussed the importance of electricity to our economy. Today, in keeping with the same philosophy of ‘fixing the fundamentals’, I want to talk about corruption.
It is a fact that we are seriously losing the battle against corruption. People who were barely making it, before joining government or state house, have now become instant millionaires. Some have become so rich that they can now afford to donate lots of money and resources for different courses. Where did they get the money? If you ask them, they will tell you that they simply worked harder. My friends, as you and I know, there is no way any person in Malawi can become that rich by honest means so quickly.
The most common types of corruption in government include pocketing of government money and using government name to gain an unfair personal advantage on government tenders and contracts.
The sad reality is that our government is corrupt because Malawi, as a country, is a corrupt society. Corrupt societies always end up with corrupt governments because governments are people. You don’t believe me? Go to the government hospitals, you will have to bribe somebody to get in front of the line to see a doctor. On our roads, you have to bribe traffic police officers to avoid a ticket. You have to bribe a passport officer to renew a passport quickly.
The private sector has not been spared either. In order to get a job at a tea estate in Mulanje, you have to give the ‘kapitao’ something. How about the press? Have you ever wondered why some editors keep interviewing certain politicians even though the public does not seem to be interested in them? Yep, that too: corruption! Some talk show hosts take money in order to conduct a favorable interview. Recently, a famous news talk show host was outed by an embassy after he tried to solicit money from them. Fortunately for him, the current government hired him for a big statehouse post in spite of this background.
Even religious circles have seen their share of corruption. Recently, Shepard Bushiri was indicted in South Africa on serious charges of corruption. The list of charges includes money laundering and defrauding poor people of their entire pensions in the name of prosperity gospel. Of course, Bushiri is innocent until proved guilty. That is not the point. What is disturbing is the strong support Shephard Bushiri has been receiving from some of the very people who have been loudly condemning alleged acts of corruption in government over the years. If we applaud corruption in churches, we cannot expect that our secular government will be free of corruption. Corrupt societies always end up with corrupt governments because governments are people. The best way to clean the government is to clean the society.
While we are working on developing an anti-corrupt culture in the larger society, there are several practical steps we can take to root out corruption specifically in our government. I would like to discuss three of these steps here: First let us have the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) stop concentrating on past corruption and start focusing on the present. Successful governments in Malawi have spent a lot of effort investigating corruption of preceding governments. In the process, they have failed to monitor their own activities. We cannot root out corruption unless we resolve to focus on current practices. As bad as Cashgate was, time has come for us to declare amnesty and move on.
Second, let us rebuild trust in the ACB. One way to do this is to hire an expatriate to head the bureau as a temporary measure to reset the tone. This is not about giving up sovereignty. Given that corruption has permeated our society, most of local experts are either too afraid or biased to lead the bureau properly. As was seen recently when the MCP government took over, many former government officials were paraded in the courts to answer different charges of corruption. Why did the officials at the anticorruption bureau fail to prosecute these people while they were in government? Were they afraid? An experienced foreign expert will be able to go after the “big fish” without any fear or favoritism.
Third, whenever a tender is awarded, the awarding office should publicly and fully disclose all bids they received and explain why they picked the one they did. This information, including the full bids, should be readily available online.
Let me know what you think. Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org