One day in December last year, President Peter Mutharika arrived at Chisitu Community Ground in Mulanje District wearing a grey suit and dark glasses. He was here to preside over the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day. His voice firm, he declared that he would shield noone against corruption.
The President said many things, and we will quote the most important parts of his speech verbatim. “In a democracy,” he began, “everyone must be accountable to someone else. And we are all accountable to God and the law. And because we are all accountable to the law, anyone and I mean anyone, can be prosecuted.”
He continued in the same stern voice: “If you cross the law, we will catch you, and we will prosecute you. No one is above the law of this land. You can hide but you cannot escape the long hand of the law.”
Mutharika lectured: “Prosecution is not persecution. In prosecution, you investigate first and arrest someone for genuinely breaking the law, after gathering evidence. In persecution, you arrest for political or personal motive and investigate only to rubber stamp the arrest. I am impressed that, under my government, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has been extremely professional in investigating thoroughly before arresting anyone.
“The fight against corruption remains a top priority of my government,” the president continued. “We will continue to adopt a zero tolerance on corruption. We will continue prosecuting the culprits.”
All that, it turns out, was empty talk.
Last week, the case in which former president, Bakili Muluzi, is being accused of squirreling away K7 billion ($11 million) of donor finds, collapsed in spectacular fashion. ACB deputy director, Reyneck Matemba, suddenly realised that it was necessary to abandon the case for “personal reasons.”
But Muluzi’s son, Atupele, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), is Mutharika’s key ally. It was always doubtful since the alliance commenced that the Muluzi case would undergo a fair trial.
Let’s be clear: Bakili Muluzi is innocent until proven guilty. But by letting the case die this way, instead of letting the courts find out whether he is actually guilty or not, doubts will forever linger why he lacked the courage to answer for himself in the court of law.
Mutharika, lest we forget, was overjoyed when recently, his party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), voted unanimously in parliament to defeat a bill that aimed at making the ACB independent.
“We crushed them,” he beamed. “They wanted to take away my powers but we crushed them.”
Now he can even be happier that an important ally is being let off the hook through his government’s underhand dealings.
Mutharika’s appointee, Lucas Kondowe, head of the ACB, has demonstrated incredible incompetence in letting such an important case collapse like this. He has told the nation that the case has not died, but it’s all a game, really. A couple of days ago, the ACB told the court that another team was being assembled to continue prosecuting the case, but the grim and sober reality is that the ACB prosecution team is now hamstrung, and this case has been compromised. For all intents and purposes, the case has died, with Mr Kondowe presiding over such a colossal failure. Mr Kondowe must resign. It’s not for nothing that he is paid a lot of taxpayer’s money. We need to see results for that.
Last week, Malawi News confirmed that President Peter Mutharika’s administration is deliberately incapacitating the prosecution team so that the matter collapses, citing unnamed sources. And according to those sources, letting Muluzi off the hook was one of the conditions aimed at furthering the working relationship between the UDF and the DPP.
Zodiak Online corroborated Malawi News’s version and said that Mutharika’s government put unsustainable pressure on Reyneck Matemba to drop the case, also attributing the claim to unnamed sources. Officials from the Ministry of Justice and several unnamed politicians relentlessly asked the ACB to drop the case, Zodiak Online further says.
What is the point in standing on a podium and telling the world that you will prosecute the Cashgate that occurred under Joyce Banda’s administration while you sweep Muluzi’s case under the carpet? What makes one alleged theft of billions of kwacha less important than another? Why should we take you seriously when you make such polished speeches about your intention to fight corruption while doing exactly the opposite when your allies are accused?
President Mutharika’s government has lost its moral authority to fight corruption in Malawi, and has, by defeating justice, become an active participant in committing the crime. It is a crime for which Mutharika deserves to be impeached.
Corruption will not be fought through empty speeches and sloganeering but through action. Protecting sacred cows undermines the reason why the ACB was put in place, and renders the body irrelevant. As Member of Parliament, Juliana Lunguzi, wrote on her Facebook page, the wisest thing to do now is for Parliament to move a motion to dissolve the ACB.
Zero tolerance on corruption should mean zero tolerance, with no sacred cows. If you tell the nation “I will continue with zero tolerance on corruption,” then turn to your ally and whisper “but I will protect you”, then you make a fool of yourself, as citizens will see for themselves that you don’t mean what you say.
What makes this lack of seriousness in fighting corruption even more tragic is that as we speak corruption is ongoing. We hear, for instance, that K2 billion of donor money has vanished from the Ministry of Health, while K300 million has vanished at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, using the Ethiopian Embassy as its conduit.
Donors ran away because of corruption, and without them our economy is struggling. Mutharika has, on many occasions, persuaded the donors to return, but with this public display of lack of seriousness in the fight against corruption, not a single donor would be willing to give money to our government.
And yet we are facing lots of challenges, and could use assistance from friendly governments. We have famine at a biblical scale to contend with, and flooding that has displaced thousands. In addition, our hospitals lack medicine and equipment, while infrastructure is decaying.
A serious leader would have wanted to let justice flow like water at a time like this. But no, our president chose a different path. He must be impeached, if this nation is to be saved from further ruin.
*No Holds Barred is a new column by José Safarao. The column will run every Sunday on Malawi24. For feedback, email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org