A Chancellor College-based constitutional expert has said fired Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development minister, George Chaponda, can still be arrested despite a constitutional immunity guarantee he enjoys as a Member of Parliament (MP).
Chaponda, who is also a Yale University-trained lawyer, is at the centre of a multi-billion kwacha maize procurement scandal after findings by a joint parliamentary committee and another commission instituted by President Peter Mutharika found that his dealings with a local company Transglobe was ‘inappropriate, suspicious and bordering on corrupt tendencies.
On Wednesday, seven Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in reaction to the discovery and confiscation of K166 million in different currencies at Chaponda’s home in Lilongwe, called for his immediate arrest saying the development is a “suspicious act” that smacks of criminality.
However, doubts arose on the call considering the fact that Chaponda is at Parliament attending the Mid-year Budget Review where MPs enjoy immunity as provided for in the Constitution.
But Associate Professor of Law, Edge Kanyongolo, said in an interview, Wednesday, that the matter is two-fold.
“The immunity of an MP exists when they are on their way to Parliament, within the premises of Parliament and when they are on their way from Parliament. However, there is no general rule which stops the arrest of an MP when Parliament is sitting.
“An arrest also depends on the discretion of the law enforcement agency. The ACB ultimately has to make a decision on whether at a particular stage of an investigation, it is in the interest of the investigators to effect an arrest at that time,” Kanyongolo explained.
Meanwhile, Malawi Law Society (MLAS) President John Suzi Banda has urged the authorities to extend investigations into corrupt government officials to every minister and any official mentioned in previous reports if Malawians are to take seriously the ruling party’s stance on zero-tolerance to corruption.
Suzi-Banda made the observation in an interview on Wednesday.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led administration also seems to be dragging its feet in dealing with an audit report involving K236 billion implicating some senior members of the ruling party under the watch of former president Bingu wa Mutharika .
The MLS President, who also earlier heaped pressure on Mutharika to fire the minister, believes that no one is above the law.
“The President’s words that he will never tolerate corruption and that in his government there will be zero-tolerance have to be matched by action, and we are hopeful that this is a new beginning. If Honourable Chaponda, as senior as he has been both in government and ruling party, has faced what he has faced, we hope that this will proceed to other people as well,” he said.
And addressing the press in Mzuzu yesterday, the seven CSOs—Youth and Society (Yas), Church and Society Programme of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, Human Rights Consultative Committee, National Advocacy Platform, Foundation for Justice Support, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep)—called for the immediate arrest of Chaponda over the matter.
“Chaponda should be handled similarly to the manner in which 2013 Cashgate suspects were handled, otherwise we see some selective justice in this,” Charles Kajoloweka of Yas said.
In a statement, the CSOs have also given Mutharika until Friday to explain to Malawians on what the CSOs described as another version of Cashgate.
“We are left with the impression that looting of public resources by public servants has continued since 2014 under President Mutharika’s watch.
“One wonders how a cabinet minister could be in possession of huge sums of money among other foreign currencies stashed in suitcases at his residence,” the statement reads in part.
Umodzi Party President, John Chisi, blamed Mutharika, saying the President overtrusts his inner circle.
“President Mutharika is surrounded by people who have no love for him but are using him for their political capital and gain. And he went in public defending his ministers, yet he had no evidence of what we, the outsiders, saw and warned him about. Chaponda is now implicating Goodall Gondwe because within their caucus they know themselves,” Chisi said.
But the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has said the bureau’s investigation on the matter will not be dictated by “emotions”.
“We follow the law and not emotions. The bureau yesterday [Tuesday] had a search and seize warrant and we followed the law in doing it. We will continue on the same path.
“I don’t think anybody should be pushing the bureau on how it should carry out its work. If we do that, then we may find ourselves working on emotions,” ACB Senior Public Relations Officer, Egrita Ndala, said.
The CSOs have since declared February 28 a day for nation-wide mass civil action against what they say is gross corruption and impunity under the current political administration.
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