Namisa Blogger of the year 2013,Stimulating the much needed debate

In accordance with the powers and responsibilities of the Human Rights Commission (the Commission); vested on it by the Republic of Malawi Constitution (the Constitution) and the Human Rights Commission Act (Cap 3:08 of the Laws of Malawi), the Commission is expressing concern over revelations of alleged widespread misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds by some public officers. These developments demonstrate a breakdown of the transparency and accountability mechanisms of a serious magnitude, resulting in negative effects on the realisation of human rights by the people in Malawi, in addition to creating a potential for erosion of trust in the public sector administration. It is imperative that these issues are appropriately acknowledged as a serious problem by this country’s leadership and be earnestly, promptly and decisively addressed, to rid the public sector of fraud and corruption, avert the negative effects on human rights realisation and restore confidence in the public administration.
The performance of Government duties relating to human rights is affected directly and indirectly by the availability of resources, including financial resources. Corruption, fraud and misappropriation of public resources deprive Government of financial resources; exert pressure on already constrained resources and lead to pocketing of resources by few individuals for personal gain. This affects the provision of basic services, equitable access to resources, and realisation of human rights and cripples development. In the long run, the vulnerable and marginalized, including women, children, persons with disabilities, and the poor, often suffer corruption’s harshest consequences.
MALAWI HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
The recent developments raise serious issues of broader structural challenges relating to public governance in the country. In this regard, the Commission notes with regret that in spite of several immediate and technically-related causes for the fraud and misappropriation, these developments are for the most part, a result of several structural, deep-rooted and systemic causes, and a result of several long term lapses in the public administration, spanning beyond the present administration.
Thus, the Commission reiterates its position on the issue of the failure by the President and concerned public officials to comply with the requirement on declaration of assets as provided for in the Constitution, where this is purposively read. This contributes to an environment devoid of appropriate accountability and transparency mechanisms for public resources, which is one of the major structural factors contributing to the disintegration of the public accountability mechanism. Following on the noticeable disregard on the part of the concerned duty bearers to fully comply with the declaration of assets requirement, including on the part of the concerned offices to make public such declarations, the Commission has observed with regret the noticeable disintegration of the public resources accountability and transparency mechanisms as evidenced by the massive misappropriation of public resources as reported up to now.
In terms of sections 12 and 13(o) of the Constitution, these offices are expected to observe the highest degree of accountability, transparency and financial probity, and ensure public trust and good governance. Therefore, the failure to demonstrate goodwill on the part of the President, concerned public officials and concerned offices on the declaration of assets, inevitably breeds attitudes of sheer disregard to these ethos. It undermines the essence of fiduciary duties and responsibilities those entrusted with public offices are expected to observe and uphold in the discharge of their duties. It is non-exemplary and goes against the spirit of the principles of the declaration of assets requirement. In the long run this has the potential of subverting any accountability and transparency mechanisms and predictably breeding a laisez-faire attitude. The Commission therefore reiterates its call on the President and public officials to lead by the principles espoused in the
constitution, which they swore to uphold, and to lead by example, and ensure that the contents of their declaration of assets documents are made public. This will contribute to addressing the structural challenge relating to a seemingly existent attitude of impunity where accountability and transparency in handling public resources is concerned.
The Commission is aware of the fact that incidences of fraud, misappropriation of public resources and corruption cumulatively go beyond the period the present administration has been in charge. As such, the Commission recommends that while investigating the recently uncovered incidences and dealing with those implicated in accordance with the law, the law enforcement authorities must ensure that all matters that were uncovered under the former administrations do not stall. In particular, speedy and thorough investigations must be conducted so that long outstanding matters are concluded and new matters do not stall, in order to check impunity. Furthermore, the Commission calls upon Government to ensure that law enforcement agencies, in particular the Police and the Anti-Corruption Bureau are adequately resourced to discharge their roles effectively. Efforts should also be directed at application of the legal mechanism for the tracing of all the proceeds of the malpractices and recovery and restoration of the same to the public coffers.
The Commission is also mindful of the systematic and organised nature of the fraud that has been reported thus far. This suggests a possibility of the existence of syndicates among public officers, and a possibility of the involvement of both junior and senior ranking officials, as well as the likelihood of the involvement of players outside of the public service system. While appreciating all the efforts law enforcement agencies are putting in place, the Commission is calling upon the Police in its investigations, to ensure that effective and thorough work is conducted. In particular, the law enforcement officials should ensure that all possible leads are explored, including those that might implicate high ranking officials, to avoid creating the perception of shielding of such high ranking officials or, selective application of the law. Where ever appropriate, the leadership of the concerned Government Ministries, Departments
and Agencies should ensure that appropriate administrative measures are applied with respect to officers that may be implicated to prevent incidences where such officers compromise and jeopardize on-going investigations. The fight against corruption and abuse of public resources can only be effective if justice is applied equally to perpetrators and if suspects are handled equally, irrespective of seniority, ranking or perceived or actual political affiliation. The Constitution states clearly that no person is above the law.
In a related vein, the Commission is urging relevant offices and the media to ensure that persons implicated in the financial misappropriations are handled in accordance with the law, including the constitutional provisions relating to their rights as persons suspected of, or arrested for the commission of a crime. Thus, the media must ensure that it carefully handles the intricate balance between freedom of the press and ethical and professional reporting. The Commission therefore appeals to the media to refrain from making speculative statements that have the potential of interfering with investigations. The Commission is also commending those members of the general public who have demonstrated high standards of responsibility by raising alarms with respect to suspected clandestine activities in relation to the events surrounding this series of public resources misappropriation. The Commission is urging the general public to guard against any plunder of public resources to which Malawians collectively contribute through payment of taxes and other means for public revenue collection. Members of the general public are encouraged to report any shady deals and characters in their communities to contribute to the controls against blatant abuse of public resources. Law enforcement agencies should vigilantly afford adequate and effective protection to informants, whistle blowers and possible witnesses in relation to the issues of the misappropriation of public resources.
The Commission further notes with concern the apparent ineffectiveness of the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS), to which the various lapses and loopholes, through which these massive sums of money have reportedly been siphoned, have been attributed. The Commission therefore, underscores the need for Government to urgently and systematically undertake a systems audit, further re-
examining the IFMIS’s effectiveness, efficiency and feasibility as a tool for management of finances in the public sector, including, if, and how best its effectiveness and efficiency can be improved. This should lead to informing any urgent and long term actions.
Notwithstanding the issues surrounding the lapses and loopholes with the IFMIS, the Commission further observes the underlying fallacy in wholly attributing the recent developments to IFMIS’s technical shortcomings. The Commission recognizes that every system is as good or as bad as the personnel in charge of it. Therefore, the Commission notes with concern the blatant erosion of professionalism, integrity and ethical conduct of the persons that allegedly took advantage of the lapses of the system for personal gain and gratification. In this regard, the Commission is recommending to the Government not to lose sight of the human factor component and deal with this accordingly in addressing the technical failures of IFMIS. In particular, the Government should put in place effective mechanisms for enforcement of internal controls and ensuring strict adherence to applicable standards of integrity, professionalism, financial probity, accountability and transparency on the part of public officers. The Commission also condemns in the strongest terms officials charged with responsibility of ensuring that, public resources are used for the intended purposes and effective functioning of internal controls, for the apparent lapse and laxity in the performance of their roles. The Commission is therefore urging all public officers with oversight roles at all levels to vigilantly play their roles with respect to utilization of public resources.
The Commission is cognizant of the efforts and measures embarked upon by government, including measures introduced by the Chief Secretary to the Government in ensuring that the problems at hand are addressed. While this is commendable, the Commission is in this regard Calling for a demonstration of political will to deal with these matters at the highest level of public office, that of the President. In particular, the President is implored to demonstrate visible and decisive leadership in dealing with this critical issue of national interest. While the President may not single handedly address the
matters, the President should publicly condemn these acts and provide the much-needed policy direction and oversight over actions being devised and implemented to address the issues, as opposed to the seemingly relegation of the matters to be handled through delegation to other offices. The President, relevant public sector leaders and other duty bearers must not only act but must be seen to be acting promptly and decisively on these issues.
On the whole, the Commission observes that, the Government of Malawi has made some noteworthy efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights. Fraud, corruption and misappropriation of public resources therefore stand to seriously undermine and threaten all these efforts. Government should therefore take decisive, prompt and effective measures to thoroughly investigate the reported alleged incidences of misappropriation of public resources and deal with perpetrators in accordance with the law, on a non-selective basis in to check impunity. The problems surrounding IFMIS require to be addressed systematically and holistically. The Commission further appeals for the implementation of its recommendations as contained in the report of the Status of Human Rights in Malawi from June 2012 to May 2013.
Ambassador Sophie Asimenye Kalinde 10th October, 2013

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