AD149: Is Malawi losing the battle against ‘Cashgate’?

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Graph: Bribery by rich vs. ordinary people | Malawi | 2017
Joseph J. Chunga and Jacob Mazalale

The negative effects of corruption on development are well documented (Lambsdorff, 2004; Açkay, 2006; Runde, Hameed, & Magpile, 2014; Banerjee, 2016). Malawi’s establishment of an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in 1995 underlined the government’s acknowledgement of the problem and determination to deal with it. In 2008, the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) was launched to provide a holistic multi-stakeholder front against corruption. At the time, it was estimated that the country was losing one-third of its revenue through corruption (Government of Malawi, 2008). Government institutions were joined in the fight by civil society organisations through the Civil Society Action Against Corruption (CSAAC), the private sector through the Business Action Against Corruption (BAAC), and the media. 

Notwithstanding these efforts, the 2013 revelation of massive plundering of government funds, dubbed Cashgate, has called for fresh reflections on the magnitude of corruption and the country’s effectiveness in fighting it.  Several convictions and sentences have been meted out against “Cashgaters” who defrauded the government through dubious procurements and the manipulation of government information management systems. Cashgate allegations against government and parastatal organisations continue to dominate the media, and many donors have withdrawn aid from Malawi citing concerns about corruption.

Afrobarometer survey findings suggest a widespread public perception that the country is failing in its fight against corruption. Popular perceptions of corruption are high and increasing over time. Large proportions of Malawians say they have to pay bribes to access various public services. The wealthy, in particular, are widely perceived as likely to use bribery and personal connections to their advantage. Half of all citizens believe that ordinary people can make no difference in the fight against corruption, and there is widespread fear that retaliation and other negative consequence may befall whistle-blowers. Overwhelmingly, Malawians feel the government is performing poorly in fighting corruption.