President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima have been told to keep their hands off the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and its Director General, Martha Chizuma.
Analysts attacks can be construed to be interference in the work of the graft-busting organisation.
On Tuesday during his national address on the bureau’s investigation of allegations of bribery against public officers in relation to Zuneth Sattar dealings, Chakwera described Chizuma’s report as substandard and work of “a rookie”.
Among others, Chakwera was not happy that the report was not as detailed as he had instructed Chizuma.
The President was also angry that Chizuma had submitted copies of the report to the Chief Justice and Speaker of Parliament.
He said he considered the report to be an example of substandard work, arguing Malawians deserved better on a serious matter such as that being tackled.
He described the report as having “rookie procedural and strategic mistakes that risk giving the corrupt cartels in our land a footing to obstruct and oppose every move we make to defeat them.”
Two days later, on Thursday, Chilima also attacked ACB, describing its allegations against him as “scurrilous” and hinting that ACB was acting unprofessionally.
He said while the Bureau’s efforts to fight corruption deserve the unwavering support of all well-meaning Malawians, the fight must always be waged within the confines of the law and not be abused for political or other objectives.
“One requirement of the law is that every person must be presumed to be innocent until a competent court of law finds them guilty, and further that accusations of criminality should be made within the space of judicial proceedings,” he said.
In separate interviews, Willie Kambwandira who is a transparency and accountability expert and Mustapha Hussein, a political analyst from the University of Malawi, described the outburst of the two as not befitting of leaders.
“It is not about governance only; it is general management. The way you relate with your juniors and seniors is basically about office etiquette. The expectation is that if there are issues to do with performance or issues with the ACB Director or the office, then procedures must be followed and where need be, give advice or reprimand in-office etiquette manner.
“In simple language, it is a bit going too far to chastise the whole ACB Director in public as people may start misinterpreting the whole thing. People will start wondering if there is something else you are angry about. So, for fear of giving out wrong signals, it is important that the President and the Vice President must be mindful of the way they relate with the ACB Director, more so now when there are so many issues about corruption. People may read too much into it,” Hussein said.
Kambwandira noted that both Chakwera and Chilima have made verbal attacks against Chizuma, arguing that they are supposed to show support to Chizuma instead of disparaging her in public.
“This signifies desperate interference and undermining the independence of ACB. It puts ACB in a very awkward and difficult situation to effectively do its work, and we personally think Martha Chizuma is a strong lady.
“It is sad that citizens, CSOs and other accountability agencies have folded their hands while ACB and its Director-General are under intense attack from the executive arm of government,” he said.
Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa via a statement he issued on Wednesday also cautioned Chakwera about his questioning of Chizuma’s competence.
“It is extremely disappointing to note that despite the fact that Malawi taxpayers’ money was allegedly stolen, in billions, in this Sattar fiasco, the President spent over 60 percent of his time and address directing his anger at the ACB and its Director, Ms. Martha Chizuma. He claimed that the ACB is unprofessional and that its work is substandard.
“As the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, I would like to commend the Bureau for following the procedures as guided by the law in handling this matter, and I urge Ms. Martha Chizuma not to be cowed by any ranting or anger from the Highest Office,” reads part of the statement.