Talking Blues: Justice delayed is justice denied


Chief Justice Mzikamanda (R) with President Chakwera

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass

He might have been referring to Malawi.

Before I get down to today’s business, let me say a word or two about Mr Douglass. He was a former slave who became a prominent activist, author, and public speaker.

He played a significant role in the abolitionist movement, which aimed to end slavery in the United States. After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, he continued to push for equality and human rights until his death in 1895.

With firsthand experience of suffering at the hands of a conspiracy that oppressed, robbed, and degraded people like him, he knew enough about:

• justice denied, which I will delve into later and

• man-made poverty forced on marginalised people by greedy cartels aided by unscrupulous government officials, which is the current situation in our case.

His assertion should therefore be taken seriously. Enough about him; let’s get started.

Cases to do with corruption progress so slowly here in Malawi that public sentiment can be summed up in three words: impatience, dissatisfaction and suspicion.

With the ACB currently led by an incorruptible Director General in the person of Ms Martha Chizuma, and based on her excellent track record in her previous capacity as the Ombudsman, patriotic Malawians and development partners’ expectations were high.

With over a year into Sattargate gone and not one of Sattar’s puppets in prison, people are asking questions as they are entitled to. Those not asking are looking for a scapegoat and are quickly finding a convenient scapegoat in Ms Chizuma. This is problematic because it helps and feeds the narrative of Ms Chizuma’s and the ACB’s corrupt detractors.

The question we should be asking is: who, what and where is the problem?

In my opinion, blaming Ms Chizuma is not only unfair; it is counterproductive. We should remember that unlike in her Ombudsman role, prosecuting the corrupt has many dimensions lying beyond her circle of control and influence.

Vis-à-vis Sattar-related cases, even after the repeal of the Corrupt Practices Act removing the consent requirement, the ACB is still at the mercy of:

• the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions, and

• the Judiciary (i.e. courts) to set dates for hearing the cases and swiftly dispense justice.

Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda’s inaction is a big challenge. For close to a year now, he is yet to allow the ACB to obtain and use pieces of evidence from the National Crime Agency (NCA) of Britain to prosecute Sattar-related cases.

The last time he was quizzed by the media about this, he mumbled something unintelligible and vague. The implication is that should the Supreme Court deem the use of evidence from the National Crime Agency (NCA) of Britain unacceptable, all Sattar-related cases will collapse.

As to who will benefit from such a development, your guess is as good as mine. This raises the question: in whose interest is the AG working?

While we wait for answers from and action by the AG, let’s move on to the Judiciary’s contribution to the setbacks.

As you may be aware, the Supreme Court of Appeal is yet to decide on the case in which former Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa and Sattar’s agent Ashok Nair challenged a decision of the High Court in Lilongwe.

Had the AG’s office granted the ACB’s wish, the appeal would fall off, and the ACB could have proceeded with the substantive case against Msukwa and Ashok Nair.

It could have also been better placed to effect many other arrests, which can be challenged using the arguments presented by Msukwa and Nair.

While still on the matter of the Judiciary’s lethargy, let me tell you something. There are some folk and entities that mimic the operational principles of a rocket. If you didn’t know, rockets only move or shoot into the sky when their bottom has been set on fire.

Looking at our Judiciary, I am inclined to believe it operates likewise. Unless someone holds a fire to its buttocks we will see no action vis-à-vis Sattar-related cases.

Look here, as far back as August 2022, Ms Chizuma wrote Chief Justice Rizine Mzikamanda, asking him to speed up the hearing of corruption cases registered in the various courts in the country.

In her 22 August 2022 letter, Chizuma decried that while the ACB’s statistics for investigations had significantly improved, there was no corresponding improvement in terms of prosecution.

“The bureau acknowledges with great gratitude the efforts made by some judicial officers to prioritise our cases. However, there is still a need for a more concerted arrangement if we are to make substantive strides in dealing with these cases,” she said.

She further presented a schedule of 61 cases in the various courts and the names of Judicial Officers handling them. Out of the 61, 11 cases were awaiting judgement, six were at the commencement stage, 16 were being prosecuted, four were up for defence, two were at the filing stage, and two others were awaiting a ruling on whether there is a case to answer or not.

From the look of things, not much has changed. If anything, the situation has deteriorated.

As to who is benefiting from the Judiciary’s tardiness, your guess is as good as mine. Again, this raises the question: in whose interest is the Judiciary working?

A couple of weeks ago, the ACB reiterated that it is ready for all cases related to UK-based businessperson Zunneth Sattar and is only waiting for courts to set dates for hearings.

The ACB spokesperson cited the case of former minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa, which is in the appeal court. No date has been set after Supreme Court Judge Frank Kapanda stayed the ruling of the High Court seven months ago pending a hearing in the appeal court. For some unknown reason, this appeal case is not even on a fixed cause list of the Supreme Court of Appeal for the January to April 2023 session.

While the newly established Financial Crimes Court will ceteris paribus help, the Supreme Court could be our Achilles Heel in the fight against corruption. Come to think of it, its failure to prioritise the Msukwa – Ashok Nair appeal could – for all we know – be the tip of an iceberg.

If you ask me, the Chief Justice has his work cut out because he should be the first to know that justice delayed is justice denied. And vis-à-vis justice denied, paraphrasing Mr Douglass.

• where justice is denied,

• where poverty is perpetuated by the inaction of those paid to act, and

• where the masses begin to believe that “government” is an organised criminal enterprise and a conspiracy to oppress, rob and condemn them to poverty,

no one can be safe.

A stitch in time saves nine.

I sincerely hope the Chief Justice will steer clear of the modus operandi favoured by rockets as described above because the pain from a burnt bottom can be excruciating.

I repeat: justice delayed is justice denied.

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