Talking Blues: How long shall we pamper the corrupt?

“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” – Peter 2:20

In October 2020, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) told us it was investigating 71 cases of suspected fraud and corruption valued at MK1.2 trillion.

This was just the tip of the iceberg. This MK1.2 trillion pertained only to cases reported between June and October 2020. In totality, therefore, we have lost a lot more.

The then ACB Director General Reyneck Matemba Esq. revealed this in a media briefing on the fight against corruption in Malawi.

Other highlights were as follows:

  1. a) Dashboard:

As of October 2020, the ACB had about 30 cases in court from both live and outstanding cases. Matemba also alluded to progress made on several investigations.

He also said that, like in Cashgate – the plunder of resources at Capital Hill exposed in September 2013 on then-President Joyce Banda’s watch – the cases invariably involved goods or services not delivered or goods or services were delivered but overpriced to accommodate kickbacks.

  1. b) Corruption at Statehouse:

Matemba said the ACB, vis-à-vis the alleged cement import scam, had frozen a State Residences bank account in addition to the accounts of the former president Peter Mutharika, former first lady Gertrude Mutharika, a joint account in the name of the former president and former first lady, an account for former State Residences director-general Peter Mukhito and another belonging to Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) deputy commissioner-general Roza Mbilizi.

He added that the frozen State Residences bank account would remain indefinitely closed until the completion of investigations, although some people whose personal accounts were frozen demanded that the graft-busting body unfreeze their accounts.

  1. c) Cooperation with other agencies:

Matemba made it clear that the ACB was not working alone.

“Some of the issues coming out of the saga are related to fraud, and the Fiscal Police Department, due to their expertise in forensics, is better-placed to conduct such investigations.

“We are jointly conducting the investigation, but we have segregated specific roles depending on our different mandates, and it is because of such mandate that we are freezing those accounts.

“We [ACB] are more interested in the public servants; we are looking at the use of the TPIN [taxpayer identification number] and the public servants who were involved; the police are looking at the other issues.”

  1. d) Of Zameer Karim:

Vis-à-vis Zameer Karim’s police food rations case, Matemba said the court will soon start hearing the matter and that the bureau would update Malawians by the end of October 2020.

He attributed the delay to prosecute the Karim case to contractual technicalities with a private prosecutor the bureau had hired to handle the case and that the outstanding contractual issues had since been cleared.

  1. e) Mutharika and police rations case, implicated or not?

Matemba also tried to justify ACB’s decision not to prosecute Mutharika concerning the Karim matter.

You may recall that Karim deposited MK145 million in a Democratic Progressive Party bank account at Standard Bank whose sole signatory was Mutharika, upon getting payment for the police food rations deal.

Matemba argued that the ACB’s Legal and Prosecution Department plus an independent veteran prosecutor had reviewed the evidence and concluded that Mutharika had no case to answer.

As always happens with matters legal and lawyers, some lawyers believe that Mutharika had and has a case to answer. In this regard, upon change of government through the court-ordered Fresh Presidential Election held on June 23, Matemba said he had discussed with Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe to review the case in the wake of continued public outcry on the decision to let the former president off the hook.

  1. f) On special treatment for rich Malawians of Asian origin:

Matemba rejected assertions that the ACB gives sweetheart treatment to rich Malawians of Asian descent when arrested for various cases.

  1. g) Conflict between ACB and DPP:

He also reported that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) denied ACB permission to prosecute one of the suspects in the Karim case, Misheck Esau, chief executive officer for CDH Investment Bank.

  1. h) Undue delays in prosecuting big fish:

Matemba also rejected suggestions that the bureau failed to prosecute some corruption cases, citing the police food rations case, the cement imports case and the alleged judge bribery case involving business mogul Thomson Mpinganjira.

He said the Mpinganjira case delayed due to attempts by the businessperson’s lawyers to push through in court a judicial review before the case started.

  1. i) Exceptionally longstanding cases:

Other notable cases still in court at that time included that of former president Bakili Muluzi which has dragged for over a decade and a half, the various remaining Cashgate cases, including prosecution of former Malawi Defence Force Commander Henry Odillo (retired) and others, the recent case of former Escom CEO John Kandulu and former Escom board chairperson Jean Mathanga.

This followed a public outcry over delays in prosecuting corruption cases.

This was the state of affairs at ACB in October 2020. Matemba since left the ACB, and Madam Chizuma has now clocked a month in office.

Save for the Mpinganjira case, we are yet to hear where we stand today for all the issues presumably left by Matemba in his handover notes to the new ACB boss.

Since campaign promises notwithstanding corruption did not end with Peter Mutharika’s exit, the list has obviously become longer.

Off my head, I can think of:

  • the Crossroads / State House cheques investigation,
  • the current fuel import imbroglio,
  • several contractors’ complaints on various tenders, which have resulted in ACB suspending / award of contracts in ministries and World Bank-funded projects,
  • stories of corruption in AIP,
  • reported corruption and abuse of Covid19 funds,
  • intel to the effect that someone high-up was demanding MK8 million from a prospective contractor to approve the contract for the Kamuzu Central Hospital interchange and, in general,
  • people who were paupers in June 2020, becoming millionaires overnight.

Hence my choosing Peter 2:20 as our theme for the week:

“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.”

A powerfully appropriate verse.

All these, plus the handover notes left by Mr Matemba, are why Malawians of goodwill wanted no one else but Madam Chizuma at the helm at ACB.

Madam Chizuma, your time, our time, is now.

Advertisement