By Deogratias Mmana:
Three judges, six Malawi Defence Force (MDF) officials, 13 Malawi Police Service (MPS) officials, three principal secretaries, two chiefs of staff, two officials from Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), two from the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), one from Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), three vocal Civil Society Organisation (CSO) leaders and 10 journalists – such is the Who’s Who on ACB’s report on the Zuneth Sattar case.
When President Lazarus Chakwera addressed the nation on June 21, 2022 on the ACB’s report on allegations of bribery against public officers in connection with dealings with Sattar, a businessman, he disclosed that there are 84 people on the list.
Now, Times investigations have stumbled on the ACB’s report that was submitted to Chakwera.
We can report that from the list of 13 officers whose investigations are said to have been extensively done, those remaining on it include two MDF officers, one RBM officer, one Principal Secretary, one vocal civil society organisation leader and one social media influencer.
Those already in public domain and arrested under this list include former Lands Minister Kezzie Msukwa, former Inspector General George Kainja and deputy commissioner of Police and service legal officer Mwabi Kalua.
Chakwera withdrew his delegated functions to Vice President Chilima after the ACB report implicated him in the Sattar investigations.
Chilima later said he would not interfere with the investigations but would challenge his implication within legal means.
The list includes:
3 judges [1 retired]
3 Principal Secretaries
2 FIA officers
1 OPC head
1 ACB officer
3 State House officers
2 RBM officers
1 Ministry of Information officer
6 MDF officers
6 MRA officers
13 Police officers
4 Members of Parliament
2 Treasury officials
3 CSO activists
1 MBC officer
Times has opted not to publish the names to avoid jeopardising ACB’s investigations, as demanded in its report.
The report says apart from the list of the 13, the rest of the list may change depending on how the investigations progress.
The ACB report presented to Chakwera highlighted a number of aspects including analysis of procurement procedures for the five contracts under and irregularities in the procurement process of these five contracts.
MDF, MPS shady deals
The five categories of contracts under investigations at the MDF and Malawi Police Service, which some had prices of goods inflated by 800 percent, include MDF food ration packs; MDF anti-riot equipment; MDF six armoured trucks (water cannons); MDF 32 armoured personal carriers and MPS food ration packs and uniform.
The corruption allegations are related to public procurement flaws at both MDF and MPS. The two institutions dealt with Sattar who traded under different names of companies.
On the requisition of 32 armoured personnel carriers, the ACB report says the requisition was made by top MDF management in the absence of a procurement plan, a budget and allocation of funds by the government.
“This shows that the requisition of these 32 armoured personnel carriers was procedurally irregular,” the report reads.
According to the report, an armoured truck cost around $200,000 not $1,752,000 as quoted under the contract with reference number MDF/ DOL/TE/01/20.
ACB investigations show that in most of the MDF contracts, a senior officer named in the report revised indispensable terms of contracts that protect the government in case of breach of contract by the supplier.
“These are terms of contract that are standard in every public procurement contract and cannot be removed as they allow government to terminate a contract where necessary,” reads the report.
As for the police food ration contract, the report says the requisition for the procurement was irregular as it started with the supplier, Sattar, instead of starting from within the Malawi Police Service.
“This shows that the requisition of this food ration was unnecessary, procedurally irregular and a waste of government money,” the report reads.
The bureau found that in the four years between 2017 and 2021, MPS and MDF awarded 16 contracts worth over $150 million to five companies belonging to Sattar.
Here is the list of some of contracts and suppliers under probe:
MDF: Supply and delivery of ration food packs with reference number MDF/ DOL/Food ration packs at $7,866,000 with Sattar trading as Xaviar Limited.
MDF: Supply and delivery of 6 armoured trucks (water cannons) with reference number MDF/DOL/Armoured trucks 01/20 at $10,524,000 with the supplier Malachite FZE
MDF: Supply and delivery of riot control equipment with reference number MDF/ DOL/Riot control 01/20 at $28,650,500.00 with supplier Crimson Trading LLC.
MDF: Supply and delivery of 32 armoured personnel carriers with reference number MDF/DOL/Armoured personnel carriers 01/21/ at $19,993,600.00 with the supplier Malachite FZE.
MPS: Supply and delivery of food ration packs with reference number MPS/SB/16/04/2021 at $7,875,500.00 with supplier Xavier Ltd.
MPS: Supply and delivery of food ration packs with reference number MPS/SS/08/04/2029 at $4,830,000.00 with supplier Xaviar Limited.
MPS: Supply and delivery of food ration packs with reference number MPS/SS/22/09/2019 at $18,078,000.00 with supplier Pyrite General.
MPS: Supply and delivery of ration food packs with reference number MPS/ SB//06/12/2012 at $9,660,000.00 with supplier Xaviar Limited.
MPS: Supply and delivery of 8 armoured trucks (water cannons) under LPO 629951 at $14,032,000.00 with supplier Sattar trading as Malachite FZE.
MPS: Supply and delivery of uniform with reference number MPS/SS/08//05/2019 at K2,852,938,800.00 with supplier Xelite Strips Ltd/Capstone Ltd.
MPS: Supply and delivery of food ration packs with reference number MPS/SB/07/09/2018 at $4,600,000.00 with supplier Xaviar Ltd.
MPS: Supply and delivery of food ration packs with reference number MPS/SB//140/05/ZZ/2017 at $3,220,000.00 with supplier Xaviar Ltd.
MPS: Supply and delivery of food ration packs with reference number MPS/SS/49/08/2017 at $3,680,000.00 with supplier Xaviar.
MPS: Supply and delivery of ration food packs with reference number MPS/SS//02/10/2019 at $4,830,000.00 with supplier Xaviar Ltd.
In the report, the ACB says the investigations have established the depth of permeation of systemic corruption in public procurement in Malawi involving sophisticated collusion between private suppliers and public officers at different strata of public service from MDAs stores clerks to officials at the Reserve Bank of Malawi.
“This case is a deep reflection of how Malawi has been plundered for decades and represents the pillars on which corrupt systems had been built in the country for too long,” reads the report.
ACB says breaking these pillars is not a day’s job but would require dedication, consistency and perseverance of all the relevant state actors.
The bureau cites political party funding as one big factor contributing to the systemic plunder and corruption of public resources. It says most political parties go into government having already been captured by unscrupulous private business entities.
“The evidence herein suggests that the systemic corruption that has been revealed by this investigation started many decades ago and has just been on from one government to another.
“Unless we deal with the issue of political party funding, it will be difficult to deal with corruption in public procurement which is the bedrock of corruption in Malawi,” the report reads.
The bureau admits that the investigation requires some high level of meticulousness and additional financial support from the government as there is still a lot of work requiring more investigations.
The bureau also admits that on its own it will not be possible to ably handle and prosecute all the cases under this investigation. The bureau says it may have to outsource the services of private practice lawyers to prosecute some of the cases.
The report says there is a security concern for the bureau officers and the members of the investigating and prosecuting teams in view of the political and governance implications that the investigations will have in the country.
The bureau recommends that the government should consider ACB special funding to enable conclusion of investigations to pay legal fees for at least five private lawyers it intends to hire.
It also recommends that the judiciary should make special arrangements for quick disposal of the cases from the investigations and other equally sensitive and high-profile investigations it has been investigating.
The bureau further asks the Office of the President and Cabinet in collaboration with the Department of Human Resource Management Development in consultation with the ACB and with proper legal guidance from the Attorney General, to facilitate a process of taking coordinated necessary and appropriate administrative action against public officers involved.
Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe said ACB’s proposal for additional funding received a positive nod.
“The request was already approved,” he said.
Registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Kondwani Banda refused to comment when asked about some judicial officers implicated in the investigations and ACB’s proposal for the judiciary to make special arrangements to dispose of the cases.
“We cannot comment at this moment. This is sensitive,” Banda said.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa expressed concern over the ‘slow’ pace at which the Sattar investigations are going, contrary to the hype that was created.
“On our side, we had expected that investigations into the allegations would be expedited so that those with strong evidence against them can be prosecuted and those that are not, cleared,” Kaiyatsa said.
He said the expectation was that Sattar himself would be arrested and brought back to Malawi to face trial for cases that he is alleged to have committed locally.
Kaiyatsa called for speed on the matter, saying the right to speedy investigation is a basic human right.
“That’s why we continue to urge the ACB to expedite investigations into the Sattar case. This is the only way Malawians can have confidence in the Bureau. This will also put to rest all the speculations and propaganda circulating on social media.”
ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala admitted their workload has indeed increased lately not only due to issues relating to Sattar case but some other equally high-profile cases that the Bureau is currently handling.
She also said the Treasury has allocated K400 million additional funding.
“This money will help the Bureau in the investigations and also hire at least five (5) private lawyers to assist in the prosecution of some of the cases,” Ndala said.
She said the ACB has also been engaging the Judiciary on better ways of speeding up handling these cases.
In the next sitting of Parliament, government will table the amendment bill to the Courts Act establishing the Finance and Economic Crimes Court.
“The Bureau’s hope is that the amendment goes through in Parliament and that it does not take long to operationalize these courts so that all these cases should be handled by this court,” she said.
According to Ndala, after finalising investigations on a particular public officer, they will be compiling a report to the relevant Head of MDA and Office of President and Cabinet.
“The MDA and OPC will then have to take appropriate action,” she said.