Chaponda dragged to court

LILONGWE ( Allan Z. Ntata) – Advisory: I have zeroed in on the totally dishonourable George Chaponda here only because he epitomizes the kind of corrupt impunity that has engulfed the Malawi government under the hapless and helpless President Peter Mutharika.

In essence, the question is how can we get rid of corrupt officials, or a corrupt government?   This is not a new question. Most of you “Uncommon Sensors” know that I have more than addressed this question before, suggesting different ideas and approaches.

I am only re-visiting the issue because the blatancy of the current government’s corruption keeps hitting new lows and cannot be ignored by any patriotic Malawian worth his salt.

As a matter of fact, current trends in Malawi are demonstrating the fact that the corruption we see, read and hear about is only a symptom of a bigger problem of state capture.

Consider Kondwani Nankhumwa: an individual who could not afford a second-hand car only two years ago but who now is a multi-millionaire without anyone knowing where he got his millions. The only change in his circumstances is that he is now a cabinet minister and has access to public coffers.   State capture is not simply corruption, although corruption is an aspect of it.

A captured state manifests the substantial, institutionalized, particularistic, self-interested influence or control of unrepresentative actors over public finances, policy formation and implementation.

State capture directly contradicts the idea of an open society. State capture is one of the most daunting issues in state reform and transition, a fundamental challenge for Malawi where the watchdog function of civil society has been stifled.

It negatively impacts the fundamentals of a democratic system, the logic of governance, social norms, and trust in public institutions, as we can see in the complete loss of trust in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the police.

“A fish rots from the head down” applies in our dire situation. In State capture, as we continue to see, undue external interference with the Anti-corruption Bureau targeted its top officials; they have been co-opted and corrupted and instead of fighting corruption, they are damaging the effectiveness and reputation of the Bureau.

We all know that appointment and removal processes affect the actual and perceived impartiality of government officials. Because the ACB head can be appointed and removed at will by the president, he has an incentive to defer to the will of the appointer. That is an aspect of state capture.

While state capture is sometimes mistaken for grand corruption and conventional anti-corruption measures are therefore proposed to counter it, these address only the design of nominally independent state institutions, overlooking the structure of the political system and the prevailing value structure of societies.

Countering state capture is not primarily anti-corruption work. While corruption may be one of the ways a captured state functions, it is not the only one or the most important, and this needs to be taken into account when designing an approach to tackling it.

Too much emphasis on corruption can detract from real governance problems. Corruption outside of the state capture context is essentially a pluralist exercise, with individuals and business paying a bribe in hopes of affecting the outcome, but without having full certainty over it.

In a captured state the outcome is predetermined, regardless of whether the transaction involves corruption. If there is corruption in a captured state, it is mostly a streamlined, controlled, and organized tool assuring particularism of the ruling elites.

My proposal, fellow Malawians, is that the most effective way of exerting public pressure to counter State Capture and get rid of the likes of George Chaponda is through cooperation and wide coalitions of concerned individuals, NGOs (including watchdogs and think tanks), businesses, and other reform-minded politicians.

While these coalitions are often able to reap tremendous emotional energy when the public learns of specific instances of state capture, unless they can obtain significant resources and have policy researchers or think tanks involved and able to present workable policy reform recommendations, they will fail to devise feasible and achievable strategies for countering the state capture we are seeing in our country, and the country’s road to doom will be continue to be a guarantee.

In other words, the situation in Malawi is so serious that the solution is not to wait for 2019 elections, but a complete deconstruction of the current framework and a revolution that restores a true and workable representative democracy.

As the system works at present, voters elect representatives, but soon after elections, the voters have no say in how government is run, regardless of how badly, for a full five years. As I have said before, this has opened our politics to being treated as a business, where politicians make an investment to get elected, and collect profits after the elections. After the elections, the only interests they are concerned with are their own rather than the best interests of voters.

What I’ve described is essentially a corrupt system in which the corruption has been legalized. Thus elections cannot get rid of a corrupted political framework where corruption is deep-rooted and the capture of the state has made it self-sustaining. Only a radical overhaul of the political framework and drastic change can accomplish this.

The citizen action we have seen implemented by Kajoloweka in applying for Judicial Review of the president’s actions regarding Maizegate is to be highly recommended. However, the implementation of the injunction that accompanied the leave for judicial review has its challenges. Who will monitor the situation and make sure that George Chaponda truly honours the court’s order for him to cease doing his duties as cabinet minister? Who will enforce the order on the presidency when the Presidency is in charge of the law enforcement authorities?

I believe that to remove the likes of George Chaponda and all his corrupt colleagues, a recall action needs to be instituted through legislation, giving the people true legal power to remove politicians from public offices when it is clear the president does not have the balls to do so.

In the absence of such legislation, as commendable as judicial methods may be, they will fall short of effectiveness because of enforcement challenges. Thus popular action on the issue, enforcing the upholding of such court orders like the injunction obtained by Kajoloweka still remains the main alternative to legislation that enables the law in such circumstances to follow its course.

Ministers and public officials being ultimately servants of the people, their ultimate masters are the voters, not the president. I believe there must be a locus standing for a collection of citizens to deal with officials who are incompetent or not acting in the country’s best interest.  I also believe acting as one, we the people ultimately have the final say, if we can only harness our power.

Fellow Malawians, when you hear the likes of George Chaponda defiantly declaring that the president hasn’t got the balls to fire him, it is time to take matters into your own hands and take complement the areas where the law is powerless to reach.