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Anti-Corruption Bureau closes in on 22 officials

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Gift Trapence

In what could be a major sweep yet by the graft-busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has obtained search warrants to investigate 22 high profile people on graft-related allegations, Malawi News can report.

And transparency and accountability commentators are full of expectation, hoping that the ACB will pursue the cases to their logical end.

On Monday, October 4 2021, ACB Director General Martha Chizuma and her team spent hours at the Chief Resident Magistrate Court and later at the High Court in Lilongwe to process the search warrants.

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On Monday this week, Chizuma could neither confirm nor deny the development when we contacted her on the matter.

“We go to court every day to follow up on many issues,” she said, refusing to give more details.

On the list of the officials which ACB is targeting, some of whose names have been indicated to us, include top government officials, lawyers, business persons, politicians and close associates of former president Peter Mutharika and President Lazarus Chakwera, a number of sources within the judiciary have separately confirmed.

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The 22 are being arraigned largely on account of their “questionable wealth” some of which is stashed in foreign countries in form of mansions, guest houses, offshore bank accounts and companies.

But we have not been able to establish whether this action by the ACB is related to the arrest on Tuesday last week, October 5 2021, by Britain’s National Crimes Agency (NCA) of Malawian-born businessman Zuneth Sattar in the United Kingdom.

NCA arrested Sattar and his associates in a joint operation with the ACB. The operation happened simultaneously in the two countries. They were arrested reportedly on allegations of corrupt dealings with Malawi government.

Executive Director for Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Willy Kambwandira said Malawians expect ACB to get to serious work on fighting graft in the country and ensure that cases are followed through to their logical conclusion.

“This is what Malawians expect to see from the Bureau. They want an institution that can investigate cases without fear or favour.

“It is our expectation that these cases will not die a natural death before arriving at a logical conclusion. We therefore call upon all well-meaning Malawians and stakeholders to support the Bureau in the fight against corruption,” Kambwandira said.

He also called for a speedy amendment of the Corrupt Practices Act to allow public officers seek clearance and approval from the ACB before opening and operating an offshore bank account.

He added that the ACB should liquidate and send back home any ill-gotten wealth stashed overseas, a move which he said could help in supporting Malawi’s ailing economy.

Chairperson for Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Gift Trapence said ACB is doing commendable work. He said ACB should not only bring those cases in court but also win them.

“We want an ACB that can also go for big fishes,” Trapence said.

According to the Transparency International ratings, Malawi has been successively slipping on its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) over the past few years.

In 2019, Malawi slipped 3 steps down to stand position 123 out of 180 global countries, down from position 120 in 2018. This was the seventh consecutive year in which Malawi’s corruption perception had been performing dismally since 2012.

In 2013, Malawi slipped on the index from position 88 to 91; in 2014 it plummeted to position 110; in 2015 the country slipped to position 111 while in 2016 it fell to position 120.

In 2017, Malawi’s corruption perception deteriorated further to position 122 before slightly improving in 2018 to 120.

A Malawi Poverty Report 2020 released by the National Statistical Office (NSO) in September says the proportion of population that was poor in Malawi was 50.8 percent in 2019/2020, slightly lower than 51.5 percent which was reported during 2016/2017.

An analysis of the data by place of residence showed that 56.6 percent of people from rural areas were poor compared to 19.2 percent in urban areas in 2019/2020.

The proportion of population that was poor in urban areas was higher in 2019/2020 at 19.2 percent than 17.7 percent in 2016/2017.

Corruption has often been blamed as among the factors responsible for high levels of poverty and wealth inequality in Malawi.

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