The monkey called corruption

For the third year running, Malawi has been named as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The damning verdict was made on Thursday when Transparency

International (TI) released the 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI).

The country unenviably perches on position 122 out of 183 countries. It has notched

31 scores on a scale of 100 where Zero means highly corrupt and 100 is clean.

Obviously, our leaders will disagree with the index and will try to come up with theories to discredit it. Recently, President Peter Mutharika said that levels of corruption in the country are a matter of perception, which is blown out of proportion by the media.

But these results show that the country is not doing enough to stump out the menace. And this may not be far from the truth.

Take the way the government is prosecuting suspects in the infamous plunder of public funds christened Cashgate, for instance. The only suspects being targeted are those that hang precariously low in the food chain. Those with connections are having their cases boggled down by legal technicalities that make it impossible for the Anti- Corruption Bureau to move with speed.

The prosecution has cracked down on the individuals while sparing the system, giving it a chance to spring into action again at an opportune time.

Yes, suspects have been picked for cashing cheques but the bankers who authorised such transactions are still plying our roads, probably in cars bought with proceeds from the same corrupt transactions.

Then we have those at the central bank who authorised commercial banks to issue millions of kwachas to individuals without observing the required notice period.

Controlling officers in government ministries, departments and agencies are also roaming free without being indicted for sleeping on the wheel. This partly explains why the country continues to hit the headlines for wrong reasons.

Unfortunately, the CPI report has snow-balling effects on Malawi’s efforts to grow its economy. No matter how much citizens contribute to the national basket, the money will continue to leak away.

The country cannot expect to attract genuine foreign direct investors because no one would be willing to bet their money on shaky foundation.

Corruption makes investment impossible because by the time an investor bribes his way to get his permits, half of his budget will have been gnawed away by crickets of corruption. But that is not the end of the ordeal for the investors because a corrupt system will demand continued bribes for its own sustenance.

TI also raised another important dimension to corruption. It said that there is a direct correlation between corruption and the ability of activists, journalists and civil society to speak out.

This calls for government to encourage free speech, independent media, alternative political views and an open and engaged civil society.

Unfortunately, not many on the list are up to the task.

Many Malawians are not ready to say the truth for fear of being marked for exclusion. Most media houses long discarded their noble mandate to speak for the voiceless.

Some media houses, both State-owned and private, are in the forefront distorting the truth. They either disseminate lies or sugar-coat the facts to make the corrupt fat cats look less evil than they really are. One wonders what the authorities in non-state media houses are doing when their journalists dance with the oppressors for personal gains.

The opposition politicians are equally hopeless. They only speak out when they have been sidelined by a scheme. There are so many projects which have clearly flouted laid down procedures. But because vocal opposition politicians and their parties have benefited, there is no condemnation of the same.

In any case, the opposition will mainly speak out of envy as they would wish to be the ones carrying out the plunder.

Civil society activists are probably the worst culprits. There has risen a cadre of former civil rights activists turned mercenaries. What these characters are doing is to shamelessly blackmail any public officer or investor.

Once their prey falls for their scheming, they turn around in vain attempts to convince Malawians not to speak out.

This is the reason why we see a proliferation of meaningless civil society platforms, concerned citizens’ fora and human rights defenders whose main interests are their bellies. Perhaps former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika spoke from experience when he said the so called activists make noise until they are given something to eat.

And once that something ends, they will make noise again and the cycle never ends.

It is time we stopped living in denial and became serious in our quest to end corruption.

Corruption will not disappear based on nice speeches made on podiums, meaningless endorsement of some fancy declarations or simply through stickers talking about corruption-free zones. We must take deliberate steps to get rid of this monkey called corruption from our backs.

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