Assurances by President Bingu wa Mutharika's government that it has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to corruption have not altered the view of a leading international monitoring body that graft in Malawi is worsening.
Transparency International (TI), the global corruption watchdog, said in its latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) that Malawi had dropped 28 places from 90 in 2004 to 118 this year, a three-year time-frame mirroring Mutharika's assumption of the presidency in 2004 on an electoral ticket that promised to clean up the administration.
As a recipient of donor funding, Malawi's slide down the CPI in 2007 does not augur well. In 2001 the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other major donors suspended aid to Malawi, citing corruption, over-expenditure by the state and poor governance.
|In 2001 the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other major donors suspended aid to Malawi, citing corruption, over-expenditure by the state and poor governance|
The 2007 CPI looks at perceptions of public-sector corruption in 180 countries, covering more nations than any other CPI; this year it ranked Myanmar (Burma) and Somalia as the world's most corrupt nations.
Minister of Energy and Mining Henry Chimunthu Banda, the country's acting president while Mutharika attends the United Nations summit in New York, said although there was political will to combat corruption, the high level of public service graft was a consequence of the government being the biggest employer, so there was a greater likelihood of corrupt officials in the public service than the numerically smaller private sector.
An ineffective corruption fight
Mavuto Bamusi, national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), a grouping of local human rights organisations, told IRIN that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which is responsible for tackling graft, had become a political football, and was toothless because parliament had yet to appoint anyone to its leadership post.
"Such a scenario has reversed any gains that the ACB could have made in curbing corruption. Parliament rejected the man who was nominated by the president to head the ACB, and that meant crippling the functions of the body because certain decisions are made by the director only," Bamusi said.
He also attributed Malawi's poor ranking in the fight against corruption to poverty: more than 70 percent of the about 12 million population lives on less than US$2 a day.
"The gap between the rich and the poor, measured by Gini coefficient, is still yawning. Remuneration for civil servants is still pitifully disproportionate to the cost of living, and public-sector reforms like privatisation are leading to retrenchment and other forms of marginalisation," he noted.
The Gini coefficient varies between 0 and 1 - the closer to 1, the more unequal a society; the closer to 0, the more equal a society.
Malawi's is particularly high at 0.62, meaning that the country suffers from one of the world's worst income disparities.
"These factors, coupled with a tax regime that is more responsive to the private sector (producers) and burdensome to the majority poor (consumers), tills a fertile ground for breeding and incubating corruption and more corruption," Bamusi said.
Charles Kumbatira, executive director of Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), a coalition of civil society organisations concerned with economic governance, said government had started numerous corruption cases but had not concluded them.
"This has an effect on the corruption perception by TI. Government has set the political tone to deal with corruption, but it is failing to match it with action. The ACB itself has not come out clearly on what cases it has dealt with," he commented.
Political will was a "crucial matter", Kumbatira said, and both government and the opposition should cooperate to end "this kind of ridicule of Malawi being perceived as one of the most corrupt countries, while in actual sense the country is better off."