Malawi’s Unexpected Opportunity

Global Integrity
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Until last week, the political and economic situation in Malawi seemed to be deteriorating and many credited the demise to late President Binguwa Mutharika, who passed on April 5th.

Concern had been rising around his increasing wealth – his assets included a sultan-styled mansion, unofficially valued at US$1.8 million – and his repeated exercise of questionable discretion, including secretly authorizing the purchase of a US$13 million private jet and appointing his wife to a cabinet position.

But the biggest concern was his efforts to poise his brother Peter – a former U.S. university professor – to be the next President. Among those opposed to that idea was Vice President Joyce Banda, who made clear her position that the “the chronic disease of third term, or chieftaincy” is an enemy of sustainable development.

As Frank Phiri, our reporter in Malawi, narrates in the story Critics Silenced as President Piles On Wealth With $13 Million Jet, Banda’s opinion moved Mutharika to have her expelled from the ruling party. But he couldn’t sack her from the vice president seat. Just a few months later, she’s the President and is quickly making changes.

Within days of assuming the position, Banda dismissed police chief Peter Mukhito and Mutharika’s Minister of Information, Patricia Kaliati. As the Global Integrity Report: 2011 Integrity Scorecard shows, Malawi’s law enforcement agency is very weak, scoring only 50 out of 100 on effectiveness. As for Kaliati, she went on television to say that Banda was not eligible to succeed because she was not a member of the party – the country’s constitutional lawyers didn’t agree.

It’s undeniable that new leadership is a good start and presents a real opportunity for more effective implementation, but change certainly requires more than just that. Our indicators point to a multitude of problems beyond political interference. For example, government agencies that respond to citizen complaints about law enforcement officials lack sufficient funding, staff, and resources. Responses from agencies to citizen requests for government information are untimely and lack important details. Government officials do not give adequate reasons – if they even give reasons – for denying citizen requests, and appeals processes are costly and lengthy.

Like many, we hope President Banda’s leadership changes will carry momentum toward more effective implementation of government accountability and transparency mechanisms in Malawi. For more on the Mutharika’s presidency and the strength of Malawi’s anti-corruption and governance mechanisms, check out the Global Integrity Report: 2011.

— Carrie Golden

— Photo credit: Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

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