Malawi like any other African country grapples with the challenge of corruption having slipped from 120 to 123 on the global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The country is still reeling from the crisis triggered by the infamous 2013 corruption scandal dubbed ‘cashgate’ in which up to US$250 million of taxpayers’ money was lost through fraudulent payments to private contractors for services that were not rendered. Currently, there are numerous alleged cases of procurement-related corruption in Malawi involving public institutions. In 2017, a US$34.5 million maize procurement scandal led to the dismissal of former agriculture minister, George Chaponda, following an investigation into claims that the country had ‘paid too much’ for delivery of maize from Zambia. A leaked report by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) accused Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika of receiving a $195,000 (K145million) kickback from a contract to supply food to the police.
Other audits have shown that corruption is not limited to the central government. It is an equally serious affair in local councils. The abuse by local councils of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), a fund established to accelerate development at constituency level, is an example of the level of corruption that exists in the councils. The results of a recent audit by the Treasury carried out in some councils indicate gross misappropriation of the CDF by Members of Parliament and council workers. These results are indicative of serious transparency and accountability issues in public procurement. The lack of transparency means that citizens are unable to track and monitor public procurement processes and to hold public officials to account for poor delivery of services.
Despite the various transparency gaps, civil society has been at the forefront of demanding accountability and ensuring that service delivery is eventually effective. Through Strengthening disclosure and citizen participation to improve value for money in public contracting in Africa project in Malawi; a project implemented by CHRR in partnership with AFIC, CSOs have been very instrumental in monitoring contracts and engaged government agencies towards improved service delivery.
Cancelation of ESCOM K675m house demolition contract
In April 2020, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) Limited was compelled to cancel plans of awarding a K675 million (USD935, 000) contract to demolish ESCOM House in Blantyre after CSOs raised concerns about the exorbitant cost of the exercise.
Following a document that was circulated on social media, which showed that some bidders had offered to undertake the exercise at a much lower cost, CHRR, in partnership with the Human Rights Defenders Coalition platform, wrote a letter to ESCOM demanding an explanation about the inflated cost of the demolition exercise. CHRR also engaged the media to raise awareness about the anomaly.
This action forced ESCOM to cancel the contract. In a statement released to the media, the power utility company said it had decided to cancel the contract “in the public interest.”
The collapse of a multi-million bridge –CSOs hold the contractor accountable
A multi-million Kwacha bridge over a stream running from Area 23 to Chilinde in Lilongwe collapsed following heavy rains in January 2020. The bridge, which had recently been constructed by SAWA Group, a Kenyan construction company, was clearly substandard.
A short video, which had been trending on social media, showed the embankments of the bridge losing strength to running water along the Chidzanja road in Lilongwe.
CHRR mobilized other CSOs and the media to go and visit the bridge. Through the ‘noise’ that ensued in the media following the visit, SAWA Group was prompted to embark on maintenance works on the Kwacha bridge.
However, in April 2020, CHRR received information from a whistleblower that the government had earmarked SAWA Group for another contract to supply solar panels. CHRR obtained information on the tender notice and observed that the specifications of the contract had indeed been deliberately framed in favor of the SAWA Group in an effort to exclude other bidders. CHRR raised concerns with the government, making reference to their previous works on the Kwacha bridge. Following this action, the government revised the specifications, making it open to everyone.
CHRR and other CSOs sues Blantyre City Council, ruling DPP over ‘secretive’ procurement of Mayor’s House
In May 2020, CHRR led other CSOs to sue the Blantyre City Council and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the secretive procurement of Blantyre City mayor’s house at K65 million. The money used to buy the house, as admitted by DPP publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi, was part of a K145 million donation from Pioneer Investments, a company entangled in the Malawi Police Service (MPS) food rations deal.
CHRR and the other CSOs suspected corruption, unfair favoring of one political party, money-laundering, and breach of public procurement laws in the deal. The procurement process was shrouded in a veil of secrecy, other political parties, private citizens or businesses were not given a chance to bid for the property. While the matter is yet to be decided by the court, the progress made by the civil society in ensuring transparency in Malawi is highly recognized.