If we could have it our own way, perhaps we could have buried the saga involving businessman Zuneth Sattar so that it evades the perceptive eyes and ears of our visitors from Washington.
Perhaps we could have pretended all is well and let sleeping dogs lie for a little while before we immerse ourselves in corruption discourse once again.
But we have not had our way this time.
Every attempt to paint a rosy picture of the situation in our country has been dampened by Sattar’s appearance in court in the United Kingdom (UK), where he wanted some of his bail conditions varied so that he could travel outside that country.
A little bit of some background: Sattar was arrested by UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA)— the UK’s lead agency against organised crime; human, weapon and drug trafficking; cybercrime; and economic crime that goes across regional and international borders.
The NCA, in short, knows no borders.
So, nothing really will stop the agency from investigating any suspected crime; not even a senseless attempt to block the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) from appropriately doing its work.
Back again to Sattar’s arrest: information that was presented before Deputy District Judge Stein of Uxbridge Magistrate Court on Wednesday indicates that after being arrested towards the end of last year, he was re-arrested in March upon his return from Malawi.
That is when his bail conditions got tightened to the point that his freedom to travel was terribly restricted.
So, he approached the court to vary the conditions so that he could travel outside the UK, a request that was rejected by the deputy district judge.
The judge is reported to have said: “[The suspect] faces serious charges [and] I would not interfere with investigations. I therefore refuse to vary the police bail investigations.”
A lot more information, according to a source that talked to The Daily Times, came out in the course of the court proceedings.
In the UK, and of course in Malawi, such information is public, but to be on a safer side, some of it will not be reproduced in the meantime.
What is on the record, however, is that some government officials have been implicated in Sattar’s case, if what was said in court in the UK is anything to go by.
Well, every suspect is innocent until proven guilty; but regarding this issue, a lot is at stake, especially when Malawi stands accused of attempting to block the cooperation of the NCA and the ACB.
While the information that was presented in the UK court is yet to be tested and proved by the court itself in the larger case itself, it is too damaging to be ignored.
Having a Cabinet minister, officials from State House, the Office of the Vice-President and the Ministry of Justice implicated in corruption is nothing to smile about. It is a terrible indictment on an administration.
Once again, everyone implicated in the case— including the main suspect himself, who was arrested in the UK—is innocent until proven guilty. But it is the tenability of the officials in their respective positions that comes into question.
Elsewhere, those who have been implicated would have tendered their resignation letters the moment their names came out in court.
In fact, they should have taken that route way before their names were mentioned in court because they must have been aware that their names had popped up in the investigations.
But this is Malawi, and chances are they will pretend nothing happened and go about their lives with all ease and luxury.
Even the appointing authority may not bother acting on the suspects, perhaps, until he is forced to by pressure from the public or the UK government, which seems to have taken up the role of fighting Malawi’s corruption on behalf of this poor African country.
The NCA is known for building the best possible intelligence picture of serious and organised crime threats, and we were supposed to be happy that they are helping us in cleansing this rotten and troubled nation.
Now, according to the information that came out in court on Wednesday, the ludicrous vigils that some misguided individuals were holding in Lilongwe to force President Lazarus Chakwera to fire ACB Director-General Martha Chizuma have been construed as attempts to frustrate the pursuit of justice.
The NCA and possibly the UK government are aware of Malawi’s reluctance to fight corruption in earnest. The visitors from the International Monetary Fund who are in the country should also be aware of that.
The troubling stories they are reading cannot be hidden, for they started making rounds a long time ago and got a real formal space in court on Wednesday.
It is what comes out of such implications that will show whether Malawi takes corruption as a big threat to national development that should be rooted out with all the necessary vigour.
Otherwise, it would appear authorities never mean it when they say they are out to cleanse this country of corrupt elements that have been messing things for decades. Perhaps, they find some subtle glory in the mess itself.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje