Barely days after Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC) rejected Martha Chizuma as Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general, the committee yesterday overwhelmingly confirmed her in that position.
Governance commentators, who have been pushing for Chizuma’s confirmation, have
since hailed PAC’s latest decision, while the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has cancelled its planned demonstration against PAC.
The committee, which attracted public anger and condemnation, including from President Lazarus Chakwera for rejecting Chizuma earlier, changed the voting style from the anonymous rating to a voice call, where each member had to openly say yes or no.
Dowa North East member of Parliament (MP-Malawi Congress Party) Sam Kawale, who presented a motion to have PAC rescind its decision to reject Chizuma’s confirmation, said they agreed on a new voting arrangement after noting some irregularities in the first process which led to counteraccusations on who may have voted against Chizuma who apparently is many people’s choice after her stellar performance as Ombudsman.
He said: “As a committee we noticed irregularities and that we needed to differentiate between interview and confirmation. What we did last time was an interview when we were supposed to confirm. To rectify this, the Standing Orders gives us the power to rescind a decision and correct what is perceived as having gone wrong.”
Unlike in the first interview where Chizuma got 14.5 out of 25 points, below the required 17 points, yesterday 12 out of 13 members present voted in favour of the confirmation while one abstained which translated to a 92 percent score.
The outcome seemed to have pleased the members present, most of whom were Tonse Alliance affiliates who were seen celebrating immediately after the proceedings ended.
But Mangochi South MP Lilian
Patel, whose United Democratic Front was in an electoral alliance with the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), joined the jubilation and posed for pictures with the Tonse Alliance-dominated team that attended the meeting.
She had earlier come under fire, on social media, for scoring Chizuma on all questions in the previous interview despite having joined the meeting late.
However, the confirmation process was not without drama as four members led by Mulanje Bale MP Victor Musowa (DPP), walked out of the meeting over some misunderstanding, leaving 13 members to conclude the business.
Asked why he walked out, Musowa said they had issues that
PAC was making a decision when the same matter had been referred to the House for consideration.
He said: “The whole House is supreme over a committee of Parliament; hence, it was important to have the matter resolved by the whole House first before we make another decision.”
But Musowa in the same interview appeared to contradict himself when he said DPP had supported the motion to rescind the earlier decision because the motion was within the law and Standing Order.
He also said they had walked out because Neno South MP Mark Katsonga was shouting at the DPP members for holding a different view.
Katsonga, in a separate .” interview, did not deny the accusations saying briefly: “It was part of the meeting
Musowa further insisted that if the score sheets from the earlier interview had names, Malawians would have known who rejected Chizuma.
He said: “I would like to congratulate PAC for continuing with the process and indeed confirming her. I congratulate the committee and Martha Chizuma for a job well done. The motion is OK, but the issue was not supposed to go in the main assembly. So, we need a conclusion in the National Assembly on this case.”
However , AC chairperson Joyce Chitsulo said the decision of the committee to confirm Chizuma is within the law.
She said Standing Orders empower any member aggrieved with the decision of the committee to come up with a motion to have the matter re-looked.
Chitsulo said: “It is normal for the committee to change its decision and it is acceptable. I am personally happy that Chizuma has finally been confirmed.”
Asked if the walking away of her fellow DPP members had any effect, she said their action does not affect the decision of the committee because a quorum was formed at the beginning of the meeting.
Chitsulo said: “When I am chairing the committee, I am a chairperson and not a DPP member. So, I am supposed to be neutral and not take sides.”
Meanwhile, HRCD chairperson Gift Trapence,
whose organisation was planning to hold nationwide demonstrations today to protest Chizuma’s earlier rejection by PAC, has described Chizuma’s confirmation as a win for democracy.
In an interview yesterday, he said they have cancelled the demos.
“This is victory for democracy and the fight against corruption,” said Trapence.
On his part, Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency executive director Wi l l y Kambwandira said the will of Malawians has triumphed.
“It is high time that elected public officials realised that they represent the interest of Malawians not their own interests. It is our expectation that Chizuma will be given all the support including the independence of the bureau.”
Last week, Chakwera criticised Parliament’s PAC for rejecting Chizuma for the ACB position and asked the House to reconsider the position.
However, minutes before the President delivered his State of the Nation Address, the House passed a motion compelling PAC to report back to Parliament reasons for the rejection of Chizuma, whose stellar performance as Ombudsman made her a public favourite.
In his speech, the President lamented the committee’s move as detrimental to the quest for public accountability through governance institutions that are well-equipped and “well-led” to probe the integrity of transactions in both the public and private sector.
Chizuma holds a master of laws from the University of East London and a bachelor of laws (Hons) from the University of Malawi. She is the Ombudsman, a position she has held since December 2015.
Her confirmation makes her the first woman to head the ACB.