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I’ve been under siege—Martha Chizuma

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In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with us on Wednesday, the Anti-Corruption Bureau chief recounts how attacks levelled at her and the bureau affect her personally, why there seems to be no progress on the Sattar investigations and what hope there is in corruption fight

3By Deogratias Mmana:

Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General Martha Chizuma has admitted that the attacks which she and the bureau get from the public are frustrating, stressful and affect operations of the institution.

Chizuma said this in an exclusive interview with Malawi News at her office in Lilongwe on Wednesday.

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Over the past five months or so, Chizuma has been subject of attacks, with some organisations staging demonstrations to press for her removal.

These campaigns, she said, have affected her personally.

“I was under siege for almost five months, with some people organising demonstrations against me. I am a human being. What do you expect me to do in that situation?” She said.

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She expressed concern that even leaders of some civil society organisations have been attacking her on social media when they do not understand what is happening behind the scenes.

For instance, in May, police arrested five leaders of ‘Mbadwa zokhudzidwa’, an anti-Chizuma grouping, as they marched their way to seal the ACB offices in Lilongwe.

Later, the grouping held fresh demonstrations and symbolically sealed ACB’s offices when presenting their petition to Lilongwe District Commissioner.

They demanded resignation of Chizuma over a leaked audio in which she was heard discussing some issues related to Zuneth Sattar investigations with another person.

However, Chizuma said on Wednesday that she will forge ahead in her work, despite the attacks.

Sattar case status

Asked about the status of the Supreme Court of Appeal case which has affected the speed of the cases related to dealings of Sattar firms, Chizuma said not much has been done thus far.

She said even hearing has not started. What has happened so far is the settling of documents.

In the case, former Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa and Sattar’s agent, Ashok Nair, appealed against Judge Redson Kapindu’s judgement which allowed the ACB to use evidence from Britain’s National Crimes Agency (NCA) in prosecuting them.

Chizuma said by now, the bureau would have arrested many public officers if it was not for the appeal case at the Supreme Court which is challenging the admissibility of evidence from NCA.

Some of the people implicated in the Sattar report announced by President Lazarus Chakwera in June this year include Vice President Saulos Chilima, suspended State House Chief of Staff Prince Kapondamgaga, former Inspector General of Police George Kainja and former chairperson of the Public Procurement of Disposable of Assets Authority John Suzi Banda.

“The Supreme Court is key to all cases related to Sattar. All evidence is coming from same source. It is reasonable for the bureau to proceed with caution as what happens in the case will affect the cases,” Chizuma said.

She said currently, the bureau is conducting local investigations to get collaborative evidence with that of NCA.

“The appeal at the Supreme Court has affected prosecutions but it is also informing on our investigations,” she said.

Chizuma said if it was all about the UK evidence, the bureau would have arrested many officers by now.

Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo told a news conference on September 19, 2022 in Lilongwe that there was no harm in using evidence sourced from other nations in Malawian courts.

Speaking at the same press conference, Malawi Law Society President Patrick Mpaka also said evidence from foreign bodies can be used in Malawi.

“We have mutual assistance laws that enable local law enforcement agents to rely on foreign investigators,” Mpaka said.

Chizuma said the bureau has focused its attention on six public officers who were mentioned in the UK as allegedly having collected bribes to facilitate contracts in Malawi, namely Kainja, Suzi Banda, and former Secretary for Justice Reyneck Matemba, police legal officer Mwabi Kaluba, Chilima and Kapondamgaga.

There are also two more, she added.

“We are looking at the contracts where these were involved. We are dealing first with the six who triggered the whole thing. After that, we will restrategise,” Chizuma.

‘Media practitioners

won’t be spared’

She also said the bureau will not spare media practitioners implicated in the Sattar report.

“They [media practitioners] will have to explain why they collected money from Sattar. Was it for fighting the fight against corruption in Malawi? We will get all those implicated in the report,” Chizuma said.

Registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Kondwani Banda was yet to respond to our questionnaire as we went to press yesterday. We had asked him to give the status of the appeal case.

‘Let’s give ACB time’

Executive Director for Church and Society of the Blantyre CCAP Synod Reverend Master Jumbe said while every Malawian would want the cases to be handled immediately, it would be necessary to give the ACB time.

“We know Malawians would want the cases concluded yesterday but let the necessary procedures be followed. It will help nobody to rush up things and end up losing the cases. This is the only ACB we have and let everyone support them by allowing them time to do what they know best,” Jumbe said.

In its report submitted to President Lazarus Chakwera in May this year, the bureau, among others, recommended to the Chief Justice to make special arrangements for quick disposal of the cases from the investigations and other equally sensitive and high-profile investigations it has been investigating.

Court proceedings

In its update dated July 15, 2022 on Sattar cases, the ACB said following the judgment of Kapindu on May 30, 2022, dismissing the judicial review proceedings by Msukwa and Nair, the bureau proceeded to resubmit the application for consent to prosecute the two on June 3, 2022.

On June 13, 2022 the bureau cautioned Msukwa and was planning to take him to court to be charged when it was served with an exparte order of stay of criminal proceedings pending appeal granted by the Supreme Court.

The interpartes hearing took place on June 26, 2022 and the bureau challenged the stay order. The matter is now awaiting judgment by Justice Frank Kapanda.

Nair also applied for a stay of the enforcement of the judgment of Kapindu pending appeal. In his ruling of June 17, 2022 Kapindu stayed the enforcement of his judgement. Criminal proceedings against Msukwa and Nair are awaiting determination of the Supreme Court of Appeal.

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