Pressure is mounting on the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to speed up investigations into allegations of attempts to bribe High Court judges presiding over the presidential election nullification petition with Malawi Law Society (MLS) demanding the arrest of suspects.
In a letter dated January 13 2020 signed by MLS president Burton Chigo Mhango and honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde, the Law Society says it “learnt with grave concern” allegations of attempts to corrupt judges handling the Constitutional Reference Number 1 of 2019.
MLS says failure to act will have serious potential to affect all operations of law enforcement agencies, thereby creating a recipe for loss of public trust in the justice system.
Reads the letter in part: “We strongly believe the ACB will act accordingly and expeditiously given the public importance of the matter. Any attempt to bribe judicial officers’ results in erosion of public trust in the role of the Judiciary in ensuring there is law and order and rule of law in the country.
“The need for the ACB to execute its statutory mandate promptly needs no further emphasis, especially at this time when we have political unsteadiness following the 2019 Tripartite Elections.”
MLS has addressed its letter to ACB director general Reyneck Matemba and copied the same to Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda, President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and UTM Party’s Saulos Chilima.
In the case being heard by a five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court, Chilima is the first petitioner while Chakwera is the second petitioner. Mutharika, by virtue of being the declared winner, is the first respondent with Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) as the second respondent.
The MLS letter follows confirmation by Matemba that Nyirenda lodged a written complaint to the bureau that there were attempts to bribe two of the judges. The panel of judges is currently preparing judgement in the case where Chilima and Chakwera want the court to nullify presidential election results in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections over allegations of irregularities, especially in the results management system.
In its communication, MLS says ACB, as a law enforcing agency, is expected to make the necessary investigations and arrests immediately and that public trust in the ACB lies in how it handles, to logical conclusion, high-profile cases like the one at hand.
Reads the letter: “Any attempts to subvert the course of justice for whatever reason would result in untold effects on future cases and attempts to fight cases of corruption.
“The ACB should, therefore, investigate and prosecute all suspects on issues of attempts to bribe judicial officers.”
In separate interviews, some legal minds said the stunning revelation might not have an impact on the case as the five judges—Healey Potani, Ivy Kamanga, Redson Kapindu, Dingiswayo Madise and Mike Tembo—make determinations based on the facts of the law and evidence tendered.
Former MLS president John-Gift Mwakhwawa said the bribery allegations might not have affects on the proceeding of the case, saying the revelations reflect the independence of the Judiciary.
He said by reporting the matter to ACB, the Judiciary has shown that they were independent and that the other arms of government should take the allegations seriously.
Said Mwakhwawa: “These allegations are coming from the head of one arm of government and they should be taken serious.”
He also asked ACB to release names of individuals who attempted to bribe the judges, saying, so far, there was no legal justification to conceal their identities.
Said Mwakhwawa: “Malawians need to know the people behind the attempt to bribe the judges.”
Danwood Chirwa, a law professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said judges always face bribery tests and this was the reason the Constitution guaranteed their independence, security of tenure and their welfare.
“What we are seeing are concerted efforts by the parties to the case to compromise the Judiciary. Some of the allegations circulating on social media platforms show that the idea is not really to bribe the judges, but to create confusion and rancour so that the reputation of the Judiciary is tarnished,” he observed.
Chirwa said the goal was to create the foundation for disrespecting the judgement the Constitutional Court gives, saying they were also targeting the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal at the same time for exactly the same reason.
He said: “They are being trumped up by political operatives with narrow goals. Genuine allegations will be investigated properly but that should not distract the judges from performing their solemn duty.”
Chirwa said the Judiciary should be left to deliberate on the elections case freely and without distractions, saying he was certain that both the High Court of Malawi and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal will decide the case based only on the facts and the law.
Meanwhile, Alliance Against Serious and Organised Corruption has asked the ACB to deal with allegations of bribery attempts effectively and transparently as the investigation into the matter would not only be tackling the alleged corruption, but also defending the integrity of concerned judicial process.
In a letter to Matemba, the alliance’s executive director Moses Mkandawire asked the ACB to appoint an external monitor from abroad who can also be a liaison to the civil society organisations.
The judges completed hearing the landmark case on December 20 2019. They indicated they would deliver their judgement within a maximum of 45 days from the last hearing date.