Wednesday, July 17, 2013
A rethink on graft and bribery
A fortnight ago, Transparency International, a Berlin based corruption watch dog released results of its corruption barometer results. It is different from their standard corruption perception index, but the results are stunning. In the report, they surveyed most countries in the world, including Malawi. Some of the questions hinged on asking members of the public whether they believed that to get a service, a bribe was required. It was not a matter of ever paying a bribe, but rather a belief that it has to be paid. I will not go into survey mechanics, but the results are shattering. Tuning into CNN, and other international cable networks, it was reported that 95% of Malawians believe that one needs to pay a bribe. The story also made headlines in the Guardian, an influential British newspaper, where a majority of our development assistance comes from. While not rating Malawi as the most corrupt country, the level of corruption belief was the highest in the entire world. In our current global world, perceptions do matter in as far as wooing and attracting foreign capital. Apparently, the story line came out at the time when the 61 billion kwacha talk was on the lips of every one that cares, no matter the degree, about this country. And the current British High Commissioner was also quoted in the media on how Malawians should ask serious on wealth amassing by political leaders in a few years without any serious investment. And this was no end as the ACB chief candidly put it that 30% of the national budget is somehow lost through corruption. We have graft, a form of corruption that is fuelled through politicians. It is a more complicated form of corruption in which we all are de-winged to fight against. Its effects are reflected in our 49 years of average households still living in endemic poverty while a few elites play divide and rule tactics through sophisticated means of manipulation of public opinion. The essence is to maintain a status quo. Usually we had lap dogs that do the bidding on behalf of powerful corrupt leaders, and share the spoils. Meanwhile we cherish at the idea of maintaining good relationships with donors as if we are entitled to foreign grants. The whole essence of political parties not being compelled by law to declare their sources of funding including compulsory audits provides a fertile ground for breeding a “scratch your back-I scratch yours” mentality. Examples are many, but think of the 187 million, National IDs, Land rover deals, as a reminder of how graft continues to deprive the national treasury of resources to develop key national infrastructure. The road network is still in appalling state, and the increasing energy demands can’t go without mention, all essential ingredients for attracting foreign businesses. The idea that we have a Uranium mine at Kayelekera operating with diesel powered energy is baffling. Well, as we swing to campaign mode, it will be interesting to see if any politician will go on a platform of graft. We surely do not British tax payers to pay for paracetamol or to educate our kids. It surely undermines our dignity as an independent country, especially when public resources can be willy-nilly abused. Most corrupt individuals are getting away with it, and it gives motivation including extra incentives to new comers. The war can only be conquered if the legislation on asset declaration including punitive measures for non-disclosure is put in place. Similarly, as long as there is no legislation in place to restrict political party funding including individual donations that come from persons/corporate entities and their surrogate companies, graft will haunt us for years. We may even become a laughing stock in SADC. Without losing the much needed focus, let me say Malawi needs foreign capital to develop. You only need to look at the balance sheets of all commercial banks and realise that they cannot raise enough capital for projects that require billions of dollars to help us cut poverty levels by half. The reality is that perceptions do matter in attracting foreign capital and investment in general. Graft is a huge cost, and the more we are perceived as thus, we can remind ourselves that Africa has over 50 countries, not just us. It’s a competitive environment otherwise we couldn’t be fighting for our lake with its fast dying fish.