Nation newspaper of Tuesday January 18 2021 led with a story titled “Funding Woes Cripple ACB”. This story paints a picture as if everything has come to a halt and the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) cannot proceed with investigations, prosecution and any other assigned mandates.
For starters, this is not the first time ACB has been in the papers complaining of funding. All previous ACB directors have dealt with the same problem. As a matter of fact, investigators use their resources because they know they get refunds once funds are made available. This has been the norm.
One may argue that the issue here is not lack of funds to run current operations but delays by other state entities to disburse the same to the ACB.
Just last year, weeks after leaving office, former director Reyneck Matemba gave an interview to one of the weeklies. He pointed out at funding and political will as major impediments to the operations of the bureau.
Matemba disclosed that the Tonse administration has solved the political will puzzle and what remains is the funding side of it.
Nothing new here.
Money or no money, previous directors did their job. They prosecuted and got convictions.
It is therefore surprising that the current director, Martha Chizuma, is already using the funding line as an excuse for non-performance. She still has a good two years and some months on her contract to do what she was hired to do.
As a state-funded institution Anti Corruption Bureau falls in the bracket of the rest of government ministries, departments and agencies. No single department will claim to have received adequate funding. Everyone manages what Parliament allocates to them.
The 2021-2022 budget estimates allocated K37.9 billion to all institutions in the Governance and Rule of Law sector in which the ACB is placed together with Office of Ombudsman, Law Commission and Malawi Human Rights Commission.
Government of Malawi has always run on tight resources. There is no entity that gets all the money they ask from government. Chizuma’s ACB must understand this reality. There is no free quid sitting idle elsewhere waiting for a government official to claim it, no.
It takes good strategic leadership to know how to allocate those meagre resources and still get good results. Matemba successfully prosecuted on behalf of the bureau and got convictions in high profile cases like that of Thom Mpinganjira, Uladi Mussa and Mzomera Ngwira. He did not need billions, just brains and efficiency.
Martha Chizuma must prove that she is worth the salt. After all the social media hype she must deliver and do so soon. It’s time for her to put on the garb, go to court and prosecute. The nation will judge her performance not on the number of people the bureau arrested, but the convictions attained after that.
And bluntly put, the glory of Zuneth Sattar investigation isn’t hers to own. This was a British job spilling into Malawi. With the mystery that still surrounds it, we may not be surprised at some point to hear that ACB has failed to achieve anything besides what the British National Crimes Agency has already unearthed.
Chizuma must get her act together if she intends to win the battle against corruption. Running to social media influencers with information isn’t part of her workable strategy. It is vanity.
Her ecosystem must involve among other key stakeholders the Justice Ministry, Office of Attorney General, Office of Director for Public Prosecution (DPP) and more importantly the Executive. Her predecessors performed well despite low levels of funding because they used the structural capital efficiently.
Malawians can talk about Sattar and all people involved but before an independent judiciary, Chizuma will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the people ACB arrests deserve to stay behind bars or have their assets frozen.
Fighting corruption is many other things besides money only. Chizuma must adopt strategic leadership to balance between money and potential.