If Government Is Serious About Stamping Out Corruption, It Should Open The Passport Contract Up To Public Tender
Evidently, the Malawi government is in the grips of a corruption crisis. Yet at the business end of things, it is doing remarkably little to turn this reputation around.
MALAWI: The corruption saga in Malawi is quickly reaching fever pitch. Last week, President Lazarus Chakwera dissolved his entire cabinet [and then went on to name a new ‘reconfigured’ cabinet] after three of his ministers became embroiled in high-profile embezzlement scandals, including the diversion of Covid-19 funds.
This followed the arrest of three former Democratic Progressive Party Officials, including former finance minister Joseph Mwanamveka [in December 2021], on charges of abuse of office and fraud in relation to sale of the Malawi Savings Bank in 2015.
Then, on Wednesday [24 January 2022], a leaked audio recording revealed the director-general of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Martha Chizuma, complaining her work is being undermined by the government and expressing concerns regarding widespread corruption in the legal system.
In the audio, Chizuma said the bureau had not been receiving adequate support from State House and accused several judges and lawyers of being “corrupt”.
Evidently, the government is in the grips of a corruption crisis. Yet at the business end of things, it is doing remarkably little to turn this reputation around.
Take the ongoing court case with Techno Brain, the UAE-based tech firm contracted to supply 800,000 e-passports and upgrade the country’s passport issuance system. In December Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda cancelled the government’s agreement with Techno Brain after claiming that the contract had been fraudulently negotiated. He has since demanded that Techno Brain hand over all assets related to the contract, while the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services (DICS) has started searching for a potential replacement.
Despite this moral grandstanding over Techno Brain, however, the government still hasn’t committed to a public tender process in order to find a suitable replacement. This seems deeply counterintuitive, given that the AG’s major complaint was that Techno Brain had been unfairly awarded the contract in the first place (a claim Techno Brain vehemently denies and is challenging in court).
Added to this, the government is currently defending itself against accusations from Techno Brain that it has illegally detained one of their employees: an Indian national called Prakash Naidu. The AG’s explanation for DICS officials confining a foreign national to his house for over three weeks is that it is an effort to “enforce compliance in its capacity as a party to a contract with commercial capacity.” In other words: the government is holding a man ransom while it sorts out a contract dispute which he is not a part of.
For a government desperate to reform its reputation on corruption this is blatantly unacceptable. At the very least DICS should be putting its money where its mouth is and opening the passport contract up to a public tender process – otherwise we might be in the exact same position again in six months’ time, albeit with thousands of unfulfilled passport applications for no real change.
Furthermore, the government cannot claim to be the victim of malign business practices and then resort to the medieval practice of blood money over a simple contract dispute – particularly when that dispute is still the matter of an ongoing court case.
If anything, the leaked audio from ACB boss Chizuma should serve as a warning to Malawians to be on guard against corruption in every aspect of public life. And should the government want to prove to the public that it can turn things around, it ought to use the elevated profile of the Techno Brain case to act with total propriety, and prove to the world that it can be trusted to behave in an upright and responsible manner.