The battle is lost
Corruption, by its nature, fights back, and it does so aggressively.
The construction of an anti-graft war may be detailed and with properly guided objectives, but there will always be resistance coming in equal measure— sometimes greater than the good force.
That is what is happening in Malawi, at present.
The Tonse Alliance government, which came into power on the premise of better governance and zero-tolerance on corruption, is employing tactics that clearly point to a perfect antithesis of their assurances.
There has been no movement to allow the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and other interested agencies to use evidence discovered by the National Crime Agency (NCA) of the United Kingdom (UK) which investigated corruption allegations against businessperson Zuneth Sattar.
There is general understanding that the evidence, which hooks some Malawi Government officials, would significantly provide a direction towards dismantling what is seen as one of the country’s worse corruption cartels.
You see, as a small and extremely poor country whose resources have been terribly plundered by those we elect to lead us, we were supposed to be happy that the UK’s lead agency against organised and economic crimes, that goes across regional and international borders, had discovered evidence that would help us in fighting corruption.
Truth be told, we do not have the expertise in investigating complex cases. Our investigation agencies’ capacity is always limited.
Strangely, we are reluctant to use the expertise of elite investigation agencies such as the NCA. That is where it clearly shows that authorities’ claims that they are determined to root out corruption in this country are phony.
But that is not a new phenomenon in Malawi.
This other time, in 2017, after the police had miserably failed to make any breakthrough in their investigations into the brutal murder of ACB’s then director of corporate affairs Issah Njauju, Britain offered to help.
Scotland Yard was to come into the country to help extricate what was seen as one of the most complex murder cases that time.
The Malawi Parliament even passed a motion to allow the experts from London to come into the country and do the work.
It turned out that some officers in the government of that time got uncomfortable with the arrangement, obviously because they clearly knew the truth would soon come out.
Those cops from the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police never set foot on Malawi soil.
Njauju’s murder was linked to corruption and the corrupt used their power and prominence to fight investigations that would expose the root of the matter.
That is what is happening now.
An opportunity to start fighting corruption in earnest availed itself. The NCA uncovered information that would take us miles ahead in the battle.
Even the courts ruled that such evidence can be used here, with the available legislations having been complied with.
It would simply require an agreement between Malawi and the UK that would assist in sharing of information for the cases to roll. Authorities here seem very reluctant to take that path.
Now the attention has drifted from the real issues in fighting corruption to the phone-call recording where ACB Director-General Martha Chizuma made some careless allegations in the course of expressing her frustration with the bottlenecks along her office’s way.
There are no two ways about it. Corruption has always fought back and the ACB boss sufficiently armed the beast with that reckless call that will continue to haunt her as long as she is at ACB and, probably, even beyond.
We should not live under the illusion that the current administration is really interested in rooting out corruption in the public sector.
Its officials, who include Cabinet ministers, have been fingered in several shady dealings and will go to every length to fight those fighting them.
In fact, President Lazarus Chakwera retained Chizuma in her position because of public and donor pressure.
Go back to the statement he made after receiving a report from the ACB on officers implicated in corruption allegations involving Sattar and you will understand that the President actually wanted the ACB boss out of that office.
Even his declaration that those who feel aggrieved by Chizuma’s allegations in the recorded phone call are free to go after her was quite telling.
Was it necessary for the President to make that pronouncement? It is as if he feared his second ‘forgiveness’ of the ACB boss would provide blanket shield for her.
Now, Chizuma is back in court.
She is facing criminal charges in relation to the phone conversation.
The charges will continue weighing down on her and the bigger battle of fighting corruption has technically been significantly lost.
It is clear that the police are not really interested in pursuing the case of the man who recorded that phone call.
And Chizuma herself has outlandishly refused to let the man she had the conversation with also face the law as she goes through her traumatising episodes.
So, a year after that irrational and unfortunate phone call, we keep on going in circles as if we are all out of our minds.
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