By Synd Kalimbuka
While Malawi government is struggling to provide quality services to the citizenry due to revenue generation constraints, it has been discovered that the Malawi Police Service is one of the major culprits in denying Treasury the much needed revenue through fraud largely in the form of pocketing money otherwise meant for remittance to the Treasury as part of government revenue.
Major outlets being exploited by the Police in defrauding government while victimising innocent and already tax burdened Malawians include on the spot fines, traffic offences as well issuance of various types of police reports such as those required to facilitate replacement for loss of National Identity cards and provision of bail.
Probably one of the areas where the police rot in defrauding the Treasury has been more pronounced of late has been in issuance of police reports to facilitate issuance of new national IDs as required for those who have lost theirs.
It has transpired that almost over 90% of the money clients pay to police officers for issuance of police reports is directly pocketed by police officers for personal benefit and without issuance of any evidence of payment, let alone government receipts.
A two-month rapid investigation by Malawi24 on issuance of lost national IDs police reports carried out in Zomba, Machinga and Blantyre districts has revealed free-for-all defrauding of government and raw deal for vulnerable citizens by the police officers.
Of the interviewed 50 individuals who had lost their IDs and had sought police reports to facilitate replacement as required and had each paid an amount of K5, 000, only two were issued with and could produce Malawi government receipts.
The rest claimed they were not issued with any receipts implying the cash was pocketed by the officers on duty.
According to National Registration Bureau (NRB), a government department responsible for issuance of national IDs, a total of 10, 000 clients seek their services every month in connection with national identity cards in the all 28 districts of the country.
This therefore implies a huge loss in revenue by Malawi Government through pilferage by one of its agencies which ironically was supposed to be in the forefront in securing every penny on its way to the treasury, a development which might as well be aggravating vulnerability of Malawians.
One of the victims of this wanton fraud in Zomba, Davison Hulama, claimed he traveled all the way to Thondwe police post with his wife Dorothy Lameck to get police reports for replacement of their National Identity cards following fire which gutted their house and destroyed property.
The family failed to access the police report following prohibitive fee that was demanded of them by Thondwe Police compelling to instead travel to the main Zomba Police Station where they were asked to pay K5, 000.
Surprisingly, after they had paid the entire amount as asked, they were not issued with any government receipts and indeed any evidence of payment.
Still in Zomba district, at Traditional Authority Mlumbe, Grace Malele and Vanessa Mvula also fell victim to this defrauding of government by police.
Frank Joseph Kalulu from Majawa village T/A Mlumbe also fell victim to this malpractice when he paid for police report at Limbe police station without being issued with any government receipt or indeed any evidence of payment.
Malawi24 is in possession of a number of these paid for police reports from Zomba, Limbe and other police stations accompanying government receipts of which were not issued to the clients.
This malpractice has even worsened with the emergence of Covid-19 pandemic and introduction of Covid-19 preventive guidelines, one of which is reduced seating capacity in minibuses.
Instead of enforcing the guidelines for the benefit of public health, police officers manning roadblocks enforce the guidelines solely for their personal benefits.
Overloaded minibuses are only stopped for the drivers to personally pay the police officer on duty for right of way. This is putting lives of innocent Malawians at risk while accelerating transmission of the pandemic.
The trend has been the same with enforcement of masks. Vehicles are stopped and inspected for any passengers without a mask and if one is identified, either the minibus conductor pays the police officer on duty or the violator “redeem him or herself” through paying usually negotiated cash to the police officer on duty for personal use.
Deputy Police Spokesperson for Zomba police station indicated that any police officer who does not issue government receipt to any person who has duly paid for police report commits a serious criminal offence of theft by public Officers punishable by law.
Maseko therefore urged people to demand government receipts whenever they have made any payment for production of police reports.
Officer In-Charge for Zomba Police Station Glinton Mitayi, however, expressed ignorance of this now institutionalised fraud in the police service.
“It is unfortunate if some officers are indulging in such unprofessional and fraudulent conduct, a thing I cannot tolerate,” he said while promising to take the necessary action on any reported and investigates instance.
He further indicated that he would be visiting police establishments in the district to put across warning messages to would be perpetrators.
National Police Spokesperson James Kadadzera echoed sentiments by Zomba police station deputy spokesperson that it is incumbent upon all clients making any form of payment at police station to demand government receipts as evidence that the money has indeed gone into government account.
This now established unprofessional conduct in the police service runs contrary to Malawi Police Service Code of Ethics (6) which stipulates against police officers abusing their positions for personal gains.
One of the Economic experts in the country Prof. Betchani Tchereni expressed dismay with this behaviour arguing all public officers are supposed to be in the forefront in ensuring that government policies are being implemented.
“It is regrettable that on top of serious and rampant allegations of police officers demanding payment for free services such as bail, we are also hearing of them pocketing money meant for government revenue,” complained Tchereni.
Prof. Tchereni opines that this goes a long way in proving how deeply entrenched corrupt and fraudulent practices are within the police service and further evidence of the extent to which some public officers can go to defraud their own government for the sake of personal benefit.
He then proposed instituting of thorough investigation of the malpractice to ensure that all perpetrators are brought to book and to serve as a deterrent measure.
“To prove that we are serious about curbing this day light corruption within the police service, all these cases must be investigated and errant Officers be disciplined and be brought to book,” Tchereni proposed.
Ordinary Malawians, the media, Civil Society organizations and the donor community have for a long period of time complained about untamed and ever worsening levels of office abuse and corruption in the police service but all this outcry has landed on deaf ears.
Despite the complaints, no follow ups by senior police management or indeed responsible agencies of government such as offices of Ombudsman and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) have been made.
ACB once ranked Malawi Police Service as one of the most corrupt agencies alongside traditional leaders in the country.
Random interviews of some people on the streets indicated that most Malawians are for the setting up of viable independent complaints units in district councils to ensure that police misconduct is duly reported and independently handled.
The 2020 Corruption Perception Index Report by Transparency International ranks Malawi at 129 out of 180 countries.