George Chaponda has been a Cabinet minister for some time. But things changed when he was embroilled in a maize purchase scandal that was to be known as maizegate. But a couple of weeks ago, the High Court upheld the lower court ruling that Chaponda was not guilty of the charges laid against him. Our Staff Reporter BRIAN ITAI talks to him. Excerpts:
Q. What does the acquittal in one of the high profile cases of late mean to you?
A. It has been a long and difficult road, but the judgement is a full vindication of our position. It was always clear to us that the false allegations against me were driven by unscrupulous elements. So, on the one hand I am happy to be cleared by the courts (yet again), but I am also sad that it took more than four years, during which time my name was badly tarnished. But more generally, there may be need for judicial reform in Malawi to ensure that justice is not delayed or prolonged in matters that have a major bearing on the lives of people. In my particular case, the criminal justice system was manipulated to tarnish my reputation while irrefutable evidence has shown that the charges were completely unjustified and baseless.
Q .During the four years the case was running, how was it like facing the public?
A. Initially, it was very challenging and painful because there were false stories circulating on social media almost every day. But fortunately, I had the strong support of my family and also retained the confidence of President Peter Mutharika. It was also a source of strength to continue serving the people. Indeed, my constituency recognized the sham allegations and returned me to office through the ballot in 2019. The courts have cleared my record legally on all charges that were brought against me, but the true vindication was my re-election as MP in May 2019 where I won my seat by a very big margin.
Q. Did you at any point fear the worst that maybe you will end up in jail?
A. To be honest, I never feared going to jail. If one believes in God, and prays for the truth to be revealed, then God is faithful and just. Sometimes he allows us to go through trials and tribulations, but if we are faithful to his word he never allows us to falter or fail for long.
Q. What would you take as the worst experience of this whole episode?
A. The worst experience was when my entire family was subjected to abuse and false stories which impacted even their careers. For instance, my son Daliso is a famous comedian. He got hate mail from people here who believed the lies and was negatively impacted. He and other family members missed several big opportunities due to all the vitriol. Being a politician, I understood how and why these bad things could happen to me but it was very unfair and unwarranted to subject my family to the same. Also, after spending 20 years in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), working on legal matters and defending human rights of people all over the world, it was sad to be treated like this in my own country.
Q. You have always been a regular feature in the Cabinet but of late your name has been missing from Cabinet lists. Do you think this case had anything to do with this outcome?
A. If one is appointed to the Cabinet, you serve at the pleasure of the President. We can never take it for granted, for any reason whatsoever. In my case, I try to serve the party through different ways and I remain loyal to the DPP whether I am in Cabinet or not.
Q. In some people’s eyes you may have ceased to be that political heavyweight that you once were; Should we take this as your moment to rise again and regain your spot?
A. As I have said before, there are many ways to be of service. I am happy to work with the people in my constituency everyday because I have enjoyed great support from them over many years. What matters most is to serve the people genuinely and also to learn from one’s experiences. I have certainly learned from this experience even though it was at times like a bad dream that would not end. Looking ahead, I will continue to work with my constituency and with the leadership of the DPP, under the President who is a strong believer in the rule of law and in people-centred development. I look forward to supporting this development agenda for Malawi through the DPP.