Facing public backlash, police cancels a scheduled interrogation of the ACB chief. Then, an additive factor to that blow on the face of state structures comes when High Court puts on hold the process to have Chizuma undergo the ignominy of a police grill
The High Court in Lilongwe has put on hold the interrogation of Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director Martha Chizuma by the Malawi Police Service.
High Court Judge Annabel Mtalimanja has also stayed a court order by Mzuzu Senior Resident Magistrate Godfrey Nyirenda who ordered the police and Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Steve Kayuni to ascertain criminality of a leaked telephone conversation between Chizuma and an unknown male friend, pending review.
In the order made yesterday, Mtalimanja said the court has reached the decision upon examining Chizuma’s application for review of the order made in Mzuzu and the entirety of the proceedings in the Mzuzu matter, in line with section 83(1(a) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code.
“The record of the reference proceedings in the court below are hereby called to the High Court, Lilongwe Registry for review…. For the avoidance of doubt, the order and the proceedings in the court below are hereby stayed pending the review process in terms of section 26(2) of the Courts Act,” the order reads.
The court has also said that parties to the case are at liberty to be heard on the review and that any party willing to be heard has been asked to file skeleton arguments.
One of the lawyers representing Chizuma, Martha Kaukonde confirmed the development, saying the matter goes for hearing on April 29, 2022.
Reacting to the development, National Police Deputy spokesperson Harry Namwaza simply said “we respect court’s orders”.
Earlier in the day, Malawi Police Service was forced to suspend the scheduled interrogation of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General (DG) Martha Chizuma.
On Thursday, it emerged that police had summoned Chizuma to the police headquarters for interrogation Friday morning in relation to the audio which leaked in January this year.
As news filtered about the summoning of Chizuma by the police, there was a groundswell of public outrage leading to mobilization for anti-government protests at the venue of the interrogation.
The police reacted by announcing the suspension of the questioning.
Namwaza told Malawi News in an interview that they had cancelled the scheduled interrogation with Chizuma over what he called “a threat posed by demonstrations which were planned by some Malawians”.
He said there is a section of Malawians who misunderstood their summoning of Chizuma, mistaking it for an arrest and that the said Malawians intended to frustrate the process through demonstrations.
“Looking at the situation, we thought it wise that we should change the strategy of conducting the said investigative interview. What we want is to dispel the fear in the people that we want to arrest the ACB Director,” he said.
Asked on what this new strategy might be, Namwaza said one of the options is not to publicize the date and venue of the rescheduled interrogation.
He then reiterated that their summoning of the ACB Director is in compliance with the April 7, 2022 court order which asked the Malawi Police to launch investigations to ascertain the criminality of that leaked telephone conversation between Chizuma and a male confidante.
On April 20, 2022 Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Steve Kayuni wrote the Inspector General of Police George Kainja to comply with the court’s determination and to act with speed.
On their part, the concerned citizens who organised protests against the police on Friday to escort Chizuma to Area 30 said they are on alert and have asked the police to refrain from political influence.
One of the organisers, Joshua Chisa Mbele, described what is happening as a systematic retaliation of corruption.
“They want to give her a criminal record and get her fired. We the citizens are aware of the scheme and will stand to protect Chizuma at all cost,” he said.
Warning from MHRC
But the Malawi Human Rights Commission, through its chairperson Scader Louis, has said in a statement that they will be meeting Kayuni over developments surrounding Chizuma’s interrogation by the police.
Louis said yesterday that they are following with keen interest events relating to the summoning of the ACB boss and the subsequent postponement of the exercise by police.
“The Commission would like to urge the police to ensure that their conduct in dealing with this matter follows due process and should not in any way whatsoever jeopardise the personal safety and security of the individual involved as well as jeopardising the institutional integrity and independence of the ACB,” the statement reads in part.
‘Time to release list’
In Mzuzu, the Church and Society of the Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP and Youth and Society have described the summoning of Chizuma as efforts of corrupt individuals who are using the state machinery to undermine the fight against corruption in the country.
Speaking during a press briefing yesterday, Executive Director for Church and Society, Moses Mkandawire said the fight against corruption is facing hurdles because individuals who are being investigated are not disclosed to the public.
Mkandawire said it is not surprising that some of the suspected corrupt individuals are using their influence in plotting evil against individuals such as Chizuma who are in the forefront fighting against corruption.
“It’s time to release names of individuals who have been investigated by ACB,” he said.
Executive Director for Youth and Society, Charles Kajoloweka bemoaned lack of professionalism in some law enforcement institutions, alleging they are being used to harass those in frontline fighting corruption.
Kajoloweka also asked the Judicial Service Commission to investigate the manner in which the Mzuzu Magistrates Court made an order to investigate Chizuma.
“We call for professionalism in Malawi Police Service because it is being used for judicial harassment, this must stop”.
‘Chizuma being persecuted’
Governance analyst George Phiri said that the Tonse Alliance administration is slowly going back on what it promised Malawians during the campaign period about the fight against corruption.
“Government machinery is fighting Chizuma for her strong stance against corruption; she is now a pawn on a chess board. What we see now is the public supporting Chizuma with the government resorting to persecuting her,” he said.
On January 24, President Lazarus Chakwera reprimanded Chizuma for the leaked conversation, describing her action as unfortunate.
Chakwera said in a televised public address that the ACB boss confirmed the leaked audio which went viral, telling Malawians that he would not fire her, as advised by some of his counsels.