The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on Tuesday welcomed the sentencing of former principal secretary (PS) of Tourism Ministry, Tressa Namathanga Senzani, almost one year after she was arrested.
The 50-year-old, who becomes the first Cashgate suspect to be sentenced, gets nine months custodial sentence on theft charges and three years custodial sentence for money laundering. The two sentences will run concurrently, meaning that she will serve three years. She pleaded guilty to the charges on August 28 2014.
Presiding Judge Ivy Kamanga also ordered the forfeiture of money in Senzani’s Visual Impact, her firm that received the stolen money. Kamanga also directed that the convict surrender cash in her National Bank account.
Reacting to the sentence, ACB deputy director Reyneck Matemba said Senzani’s jailing will send out a strong message to all those involved in Cashgate.
“In our submission to the court, we asked that the offender should serve a sentence. We realise that she had cooperated with the court by returning the money and also pleading guilty; all these are very welcome, but we are looking at the gravity of the case and the consequences the country is going through as a result of her theft,” Matemba said.
But lawyer for the defence, Necton Mhura—who looked surprised as Kamanga was passing the sentence, which took more than an hour—said they would appeal.
According to Mhura, the judge did not take into account the fact that her client had cooperated with government and that she returned the stolen money.
“To begin with, my client pleaded guilty, she cooperated with the court throughout the case and also returned the money. Most importantly, she is a first offender and according to the law, first offenders do not deserve such sentences. We are not happy at all because we had hoped she would get a suspended sentence,” Mhura said.
Throughout the court session, Senzani, who was clad in a black and white jacket and a blouse matched with a knee-high black skirt, looked face down while clutching her spectacles’ case.
Delivering the sentence, Kamanga rejected the defence’s plea for a lighter verdict on medical grounds. The judge said the application lacked supporting documents.
She also threw out the State’s request to consider what the press had written on the impact Cashgate had brought to the economy, which included the donor aid freeze.
The judge, however, considered Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe’s statement made in Parliament on September 2 when presenting the 2014/2015 National Budget that government had no choice, but to adopt the zero-deficit budget because donors had pulled out as a result of Cashgate.
“Looking at the impact of Cashgate, the offender does not deserve a suspended sentence. She willingly and without shame deposited money into her account fully knowing it was stolen [and] creating an impression that she had legally obtained it,” Kamanga said.
The first Cashgate suspect to be jailed since revelations of the plunder surfaced in September last year, Senzani was arrested by ACB on October 21 2013 after the bureau received a complaint alleging that government officers at Capital Hill were making entries in the Integrated Financial Management System (Ifmis) and siphoning out money.
According to ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala last year, the bureau established that “Senzani had instructed the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife to make payments in favour of her company, Visual Impact, for no service supplied or offered to government”.
Nearly K4.6 billion is suspected to have been looted from the Ministry of Tourism between July and September 2013 through dubious payouts, according to investigations by The Nation.
The wanton looting of government resources was exposed by the shooting of the then Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo at the gate of his house in Area 43 in Lilongwe on September 13 2013.
Since then, several civil servants have been arrested for alleged involvement in the loot.