By: Natty Magwira
The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) recently marked twenty-five years since its establishment. Coincidentally, this duration mirrors the time it took Hong Kong’s former British anti-corruption agency (ACA) to transform its nation from ‘the most corrupt place on earth’ to one of the ‘cleanest’ in terms of corruption.
However, ACB has reluctantly acknowledged that ‘our corruption problem’ has worsened, with many Malawians expressing concerns that it is spiraling out of control and seems incurable.
ACB may assert that it exerted every effort within its means, but it was severely hindered by external challenges. Typically, countries with ineffective anti-corruption measures allocate less than 0.01% of their national budget to anti-corruption initiatives. In ACB’s case, its budget falls within the range of 0.1-0.5% of the national budget. Hong Kong’s ACA achieved remarkable success with a meager budget of 0.38% of the government budget. Thus, lack of resources cannot be blamed for ACB’s inability to eradicate corruption in our country.
Moreover, the issue does not stem from a lack of autonomy, legal framework, or governmental support. ACB possesses extensive authority to probe corruption-related crimes, complete with investigatory powers, and encourages the public to report any suspected corrupt activities. Crucially, ACB plays a pivotal role in scrutinizing public contracts, as mandated by Section 37 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act of 2017.
However, ACB’s inefficacy lies in its misplaced priorities. It erroneously believes that securing convictions is the panacea for ‘our corruption problem.’ Despite recommending 10,615 complaints for investigation over its twenty-five years of existence, only 158 convictions have been secured, signaling a dismal success rate that undermines public trust and confidence.
Corruption persists due to the abundance of opportunities, the ethical deficit among public officials and citizens, and the absence of effective deterrence measures. Regrettably, ACB has failed to expose systemic loopholes that facilitate widespread embezzlement of resources or address bonded contracts that bleed the government of substantial funds, despite vetting by ACB.
Moreover, ACB’s failure to advocate against granting presidential pardons to corruption convicts and its reluctance to conduct lifestyle assessments and audits perpetuate a culture of impunity.
While combating corruption is undoubtedly daunting, it is not insurmountable, as demonstrated by numerous anti-corruption agencies worldwide. It demands unwavering commitment, a sense of purpose, and a willingness to confront entrenched systems and individuals.