President Lazarus Chakwera’s swift action against a former Cabinet minister and two former aides in a space of two weeks, speaks volumes about his strong determination to fight graft in the country without looking at who is involved in the vice. He is not smiling at graft suspects.
The development is a clear departure from his immediate past predecessor, Peter Mutharika who took five months to drop a Cabinet minister under investigation by the graft-busting body—the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
Two weeks ago, Chakwera fired his Special Advisor for Special Duties, Pastor Martin Thom. Thom was sacked for his alleged involvement in the smuggling of Bill Number 22 of 2021 Loan Authorisation to allow government to borrow K93 billion to finance construction of houses for security agencies in the country. The bill found its way on the Order Paper without the express clearance of relevant authorities. The President wasted little time to crack the whip.
Barely two weeks later, Chakwera also fired Newton Kambala as Minister of Energy and presidential advisor for Strategy and Manifesto Implementation, Chris Chaima Banda. The President sacked the two after ACB arrested them alongside Alliance for Democracy president Enock Chihana for allegedly attempting to influence the award of fuel contracts.
Fast backwards, in April this year, the President chopped Ken Kandodo from his Cabinet for using Covid-19 funds—about K613 000—on an official trip to South Africa. According to Chakwera, Kandodo’s wrongdoing is that the money the former minister used on the trip was not available for Covid-19 purposes during the period he used it.
On the contrary, Mutharika kept George Chaponda as Minister of Agriculture for a whopping five months after tongues started wagging on his alleged corrupt role in the award of a maize contract in 2016.
At the centre of calls for Mutharika to drop Chaponda were suspicions over the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc’s) maize deals with Zambian firms. While Admarc said it was buying maize from the Zambian Cooperative Federation, a government agency, documents showed that the organisation was actually using a private Zambian firm Kaloswe. Someone must have been selling the people dummies.
By November 16 2016, various sectors of the society, including civil societies, had started pressuring Mutharika to drop both Chaponda as Cabinet minister and Admarc chief executive officer, Foster Mlumbe to create space for an impartial and independent probe into the maize procurement deal.
ACB, in conjunction with its Zambian counterpart, started investigating corrupt elements in the matter.
For sometime Chaponda kept mum on the matter. And when he broke the silence in January 2017, he said he was not involved and would not resign as a Cabinet minsiter.
Mutharika only dropped Chaponda from Cabinet on February 22, 2017, a development the former president’s detractors said was too little, too late. Mutharika fired Chaponda after ACB pounced on the latter’s property as part of the probe.
Suffice to say the courts eventually acquitted Chaponda on all charges laid against him.
The question we can still ask to this day is: how impartial and independent were the probes into the maize deals by ACB and other agencies, with the key officers who were being investigated in office?
In contrast, by firing corruption suspects Chakwera is sending the right message on the fight against corruption in the country. Besides telling all and sundry, that he is not distributing sweets Chakwera is also creating the right space for impartial and independent investigations into allegations of corruption.
Kambala and Chaima Banda as well as Chihana are presumed innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. But Chakwera knows it is a futile effort to probe a Cabinet minister who is still in office. Chakwera has shown that he will not protect anybody involved in or associated or smeared with graft. But most importantly, the President knows he can’t fight graft while smiling at suspects. It is only right and proper to drop from Cabinet those accused of or charged with any form of corrupt practices to create space for impartial and independent investigations. n