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Where is Martha Chizuma?

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Lazarus Chakwera

Within days after her make-or-break meeting with President Lazarus Chakwera over a leaked audio in which she raised red flags in the fight against corruption, ACB Director General Martha Chizuma went ‘on leave’. Was it voluntary or forced? Can she come back and still function?

By Deogratias Mmana:

Martha Chizuma, the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), has gone ‘on leave’.

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And she went on leave within the week she had a showdown with President Lazarus Chakwera over a leaked audio in which she, among other things, accused a judge and lawyers of being corrupt as the ACB pursues the Zuneth Sattar case.

If her position is governed by Ministry of Labour laws, she was supposed to go on leave only after serving 12 months in her job. Chakwera appointed her in that role in April 2021, meaning that she has been in that capacity for only 9 months.

Now there are questions about her going on leave at this point and the tenability of her position after the President criticised her over the audio in a national address he made on January 24 after his meeting with Chizuma over the same.

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Addressing the nation after meeting Chizuma, Chakwera said that he had given her a stern warning over the audio.

“Now since the conduct of any ACB Director is regulated by law, there are several legal minds who have told me that the audio recording contains information justifying Ms. Chizuma’s removal as Director of the Anti- Corruption Bureau on the grounds of misconduct in terms of Section 6B (2) of the Corrupt Practices Act, 2019.”

Chakwera further said: “As such I have given her a stern warning about what the law demands and what I expect from her as the person I appointed to that office.”

Eight days later on February 2, 2022, Chizuma told Times that she had gone on leave.

She said this when Times had sent her an inquiry on whether the ACB would be bringing Chakwera and Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Zangazanga Chikhosi, to court as witnesses in the corruption case involving former minister of Energy Newton Kambala, Alliance for Democracy president Enock Chihana and former presidential aide Chris Chaima Banda.

Chizuma told us she was ‘on leave’ and had no access to the files.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, Christina Mkutumula, said according to law, one is supposed to get leave after working for 12 months.

We tried to talk to Chizuma to explain about the leave and whether she still has the stamina to operate as ACB’s Director General.

She did not respond to our questions, except sending us a smiley face emoji through WhatsApp.

But her ‘leave’ has brought mixed reactions.

Former Attorney General Charles Mhango has described the leave as a confirmation that the Director General is now apprehensive about her office.

Mhango added that the recent events surrounding the ACB and its Director General have dealt a heavy blow to the independence of the institution and the holder of the office of DG.

Firstly, he said, the leakage of the phone call has exposed the DG to a lot of scrutiny and the DG will henceforth be apprehensive about who to trust or not.

“Secondly, the summoning of the DG by the President will also make the DG feel like her office and person occupying it does not enjoy the confidence of the executive anymore.

“Thirdly, there seems to be disconnect amongst the offices of the AG as principal legal advisor to government, the DPP as the chief prosecutor and the ACB. At the end of the day, the ACB needs goodwill from the AG and the DPP. The above events demonstrate that the ACB is no longer an independent institution,” Mhango added.

Executive Director for the Church and Society of the Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), Reverend Master Jumbe has also described the leave as questionable.

“We don’t know whether it was forced or voluntary. She was not supposed to go on leave now,” Jumbe said, describing the recent events surrounding Chizuma’s work as “very regrettable.”

“The stamina has been lost especially with a poor working relationship with other government institutions like the AG and DPP.

Three weeks ago, DPP Steven Kayuni denied the ACB consent to prosecute Sattar’s agent, Ashok Nair.

That came three weeks after AG Thabo Nyirenda indicated ACB was third in rank after DPP and AG at the top.

That was after he was criticised for announcing an amnesty to those that have defrauded government but without consulting the ACB which is the lead in graft fighting in the country.

According to Jumbe, these developments do not bode well on the fight against corruption in this country.

“Fighting corruption will be a toll order,” he said.

He however insisted that the country should not give up the fight. He urged Malawians to support Chizuma and the ACB. He also said replacing Chizuma would not be ideal at this time.

Before the leakage of the audio, Chizuma received public support from various stakeholders, including the Malawi Law Society.

The law society warned against interference in the ACB work, amid reports that there were attempts by some quarters to frustrate its investigations on the Sattar case.

Catholic Bishops asked Chakwera and his government to provide security to Chizuma.

“No one should be pressurised, intimidated or influenced by threats or any other means in the carrying out of their work for the good of the country.

“We plead…that any of the investigations or cases which the ACB is dealing with are not in any way obstructed or influenced. Let no suspect, however wealthy or who their connections are, be shielded or protected provided that he or she is given proper recourse to the legal processes of the courts,” said the bishops in a letter.

The bishops’ statement came barely a day after the Public Affairs Committee met Chakwera over several governance flaws under his administration.

The statement also came after the ACB arrested former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Kezzie Msukwa for his alleged corruption in land deals involving Sattar and his agent, Ashok.

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