The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) recently celebrated twenty-five years of its existence. Coincidentally, this is the time it took the former British Hong Kong’s anti-corruption agency (ACA) to successfully turn its country from ‘the most corrupt place on earth’ to now one of ‘the most corruption-free’ (cleanest).
In contrast, ACB has recently been forced to admit ‘our corruption problem’ has worsened, but many Malawians feel it is actually becoming insurmountable and incurable.
ACB will self-servingly claim it did everything in its capacity but was mightily constrained by problems not in its control. Anti-corruption budgets in countries where anti-corruption efforts have not been effective are invariably below 0.01% of the national budget; in ACB’s case its budget has been in the range of 0.1-0.5% of the national budget.
Hong Kong’s ACA achieved its feat on a bare-bones budget of 0.38% of the government budget. Clearly, it is not for lack of resources that ACB is failing to cure our country of ‘our corruption problem’.
Nor is it for lack of independence (top-level political will), legal or legislative support considering ACB is fully empowered to investigate all crimes which are connected with corruption, has full investigatory powers and the general public is encouraged to report any reasonably suspected corrupt conduct or act. Most importantly, ACB is fully embedded in the vetting of public contracts (by Section 37 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act of 2017 which stipulates that all single-source and high-value procurements should be subjected to vetting by the ACB to strengthen scrutiny in the procurement process).
It is what ACB has chosen to focus on and failed to focus on that makes ACB’s efforts ineffective.
It is ACB’s erroneous belief that ‘our corruption problem’ can be cured by securing convictions. In its twenty-five years of its existence, ACB has recommended 10,615 complaints (29% of registered and processed complaints) for investigations and only managed to secure 158 convictions.
Such a low conviction rate telegraphs a perception of failure in ACB’s corruption-fight efforts and, ultimately, loss of public credibility and support. Granted, ACB’s corruption-fighting efforts are more likely than not to be upended by developments outside ACB’s control (there are no assurances court-actions will lead to conviction or Presidential pardons will not extend to corruption convicts).
Corruption exists because of the ready availability of corruption opportunities, lack of ethical values of public officials and citizens (the gatekeepers) and lack of deterrence and, in the opinion of many Malawians, the graft busting body has demonstrably failed to take effective action against each of these.
ACB has failed to lay bare what loopholes exist in the public sector systems and procedures that allows free-for-all pilferage of drugs in hospitals or deal decisively with public sector systems and procedures that perennially rob government of hundreds of billions such as un-bonded or poorly bonded contracts (vetted by ACB, by the way) and loop holes that have allowed previous regimes and the current regime to steal hundreds of billions from government?
ACB has failed to embrace a zero-corruption tolerance policy by not protesting against extending Presidential pardons to corruption convicts (in violation of set pardon guidelines). And while encouraging the general public to report any reasonably suspected corrupt conduct or act, it has allowed government to “whitewash” suspected corruption by not effecting lifestyle assessments and audits as an effective deterrent zero-corruption tolerance policy.
While we acknowledge fighting corruption to be a very challenging task requiring a great sense of mission in carrying out one’s duties and determination to take to task a system and people who are probably very street-smart and knowledgeable (about loop holes that exist in the public sector systems and procedures and probably well-connected to the most powerful and unscrupulous), it is not insurmountable as many ACAs have shown.
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