President Lazarus Chakwera Tuesday made a bold statement against corruption when he technically suspended Vice President Saulos Chilima, who is alleged to be among 84 beneficiaries implicated in United Kingdom-based businessman Zuneth Sattar’s suspected corrupt dealings.
Chakwera has also fired Inspector General of Police George Kainja, suspended State House Chief of Staff Prince Kapondamgaga and recommended the removal of Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) Chairperson John Suzi Banda.
Analysts believe the implication of Chilima in the Sattar investigations report by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is likely to dent the image of the Tonse Administration, which came to power on the higher moral ground to end corruption.
But Chakwera was quick to note that no other member of his Cabinet, except Chilima, has been named in the report which ACB has submitted to his office, the Chief Justice Rizine Mzikamanda and Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara.
“As for the Vice President, his office is unique in that the Constitution does not provide for his suspension or removal from it by the President because he holds that office by the will of Malawian voters, which I respect.
“As such, the best I can do for now, which is what I have decided to do, is to withhold from his office any delegated duties while waiting for the bureau to substantiate its allegations against him and to make known its course of action in relation to such,” he said.
According to Chakwera, ACB investigations have revealed that 53 public officers and former public officers allegedly received money from Sattar in the eight months between March 2021 and October 2021.
“These public officers were specifically from Malawi Defence Force, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Malawi Revenue Authority, Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority, Office of the President and Cabinet, Office of the Vice President, Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Homeland Security, Ministry of Lands, Ministry of Tourism, State House, Reserve Bank of Malawi, Financial Intelligence Authority and even the Anti-Corruption Bureau itself.
“Additionally, the bureau has found that another set of 31 individuals from the private sector, the media, civil society and the legal fraternity also received money from Mr Sattar during those eight months, bringing the total of those on the bureau’s list to 84,” Chakwera said.
The Malawi leader was quick to note that ACB, in its report, has kept a tight lid on the full list of names of people implicated due to the “extremely complex nature” of the investigation, and to allow for proper and full investigations to determine their culpability, if any, and to avoid prejudicing people who may otherwise be innocent.
Chakwera said he has instructed Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba to work with the relevant service commissions to effect similar measures on the other implicated public servants who do not report to the President.
The report has revealed that, in the four years between 2017 and 2021, the Malawi Police Service and the Malawi Defence Force awarded 16 contracts worth over $150 million to five companies belonging to Sattar.
This, according to Chakwera, means that one driver of corruption in Malawi is the country’s procurement laws, which allow contracts to be awarded to companies without regard to the beneficial ownership of those companies, which allows businesspersons to capture the State through unknown contract monopolies.
“As such, I have directed the Minister of Justice to fast-track the legislation we have been working on to change this,” he said.
Chakwera also faulted the ACB for also releasing the report to the Chief Justice and Speaker of Parliament, saying it dishonours the principle of separation of powers among the Executive branch, to which the bureau reports, the Judiciary and the Legislature, which exist for different functions.
According to Chakwera, no law authorises the ACB to submit reports to the heads of the two other branches.
“Thirdly, I find it irregular because the bureau already stated in the report that it cannot release the list of individuals implicated by the report to the public to avoid prejudicing people who may otherwise be innocent and, yet, the same bureau has already gone ahead to release the report to two other public offices that are not bound by law to keep it confidential.
“Fourthly, since the bureau has said that it fears that reading the report may lead to prejudice, it should have avoided potentially prejudicing the Chief Justice most of all, considering that the cases under investigation will be tried before the courts and may very well end up before the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court for independent appeals,” he said.
He also bemoaned what he called selective justice, saying, beyond the 84 individuals who allegedly received money from Sattar in 2021, Sattar’s associate also kept a record of all the persons who allegedly received money from 2008 to 2020.
“But curiously, the bureau’s report does not include any of the names of those found in the 14 ledgers that contain this information. This, in my view, points to another factor that drives corruption in this country, namely the selective pursuit of justice by the bureau in its enforcement of the law. If the bureau has evidence that Mr Sattar has been corrupting government officials since 2008, and if I requested a report that would enable me to tell Malawians the full extent of the matter, I find it bizarre for the bureau to leave out the names of those from the first 12 of the 13 years in which the corruption allegedly happened. That kind of selective justice is a clear signal to those who practiced corruption in the past that the seriousness of their crimes against Malawians are based not on the laws they broke or the harm they caused to this country, but on the whims of the bureau, and that has to change,” he said.
The president noted that another major factor that fuels corruption in the country is the advance capturing of political parties before they get into power, done by businesspersons whose donations may not have been declared to the Registrar of Parties as provided for in the Political Parties Act.
“As such, my office will give the Registrar’s office any support it needs to investigate the political donations found in those ledger books and to take appropriate action against the affected political parties for any undeclared donations,” he said.
Meanwhile, National Anti-Corruption Alliance Chairperson Moses Mkandawire has hailed Chakwera for taking a bold step in the fight against corruption in the country.
Mkandawire, however, urged the ACB to move with speed in taking the people suspected to court so that those found guilty can be convicted and those not found guilty could have their names cleared.
“We also expect the courts to handle these cases expeditiously,” Mkandawire said.
Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament Chairperson Peter Dimba said the committee expects the President to interdict public officers implicated in the ACB report.
“We remain hopeful that the Judiciary will expeditiously dispense justice on the legal battles that will ensue.
“We have confidence in the integrity and patriotism of the Judiciary and that, just as they were able to deliver Malawi from electoral fraud in 2019, they will be able to put to an end decades of looting and corruption in Malawi,” Dimba said.