Newly appointed Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general Martha Chizuma yesterday bade goodbye to the Office of the Ombudsman and is set to take up her new role at the graft-busting body today amid high expectations.
In a telephone interview after clearing her desk as the public protector in St. Martin’s House at the City Centre in Lilongwe around 6pm, the first woman to head the ACB said everyday was a memorable moment for her in the Office of the Ombudsman.
However, she highlighted the upholding of her determination in the Tractorgate by both the High Court of Malawi and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal as the turning point.
Said Chizuma: “Without doubt, the Tractorgate case is the one that kind of opened gates to a lot more possibilities ahead of us as a team.
“Personally, it [the case] confirmed to me that I had been right all along despite the deafening voices saying something to the contrary.
“To a larger extent, Malawi started to believe again in the justice delivery system and that challenged me even more to serve the average Malawian even better.
“I can actually say without fear of contradiction that the ruling was the proudest moment in my Ombudsman career.”
In what could be termed as her final exclusive interview as Ombudsman with The Nation, she had to first park on the roadside on her way home to share her reflections on her stay at the Office of the Ombudsman.
Chizuma said: “It’s a job that literally takes everything from you, but I have no regrets. I am proud of the little that I have done for Malawi in that role.”
On the other hand, she cites deaths of her workmates due to Covid-19 as the lowest moments as she valued and cherished the contribution of every staff in her institution.
Chizuma left St. Martin’s House, her work station for the past six years, for Mulanje House within the City Centre to lead the fight against corruption in the country.
Ever since names of shortlisted candidates were made public and her name was among the final three, the public and civil society groups went into overdrive lobbying that she gets the job.
The expectations were largely derived from her performance at the Office of the Ombudsman which revived the hitherto dormant institution into a household name that gave hope to the poor.
However, her road to ACB’s Mulanje House was not a stroll in the park.
Her nomination by President Lazarus Chakwera was first rejected by Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee before the decision was rescinded six days later amid public outcry.
Naturally, the expectation would exert pressure on one. But during the interview last evening, Chizuma said she will take up her role at the ACB hoping to learn more from the new team.
She said she is aware that the ACB top job comes with its own challenges, especially looking at how her recent recruitment process panned out on one hand and the public outcries against “some spanners on the same” on the way.
Said Chizuma: “I must admit that it is a different feeling. There is evidently pressure to deliver. I am saying this because at the time of my being appointed as the Ombudsman back then, people didn’t know much about the office nor did they have an idea of who Martha Chizuma was.
“But five years down the line, full of dedicated public service courtesy of an exceptional staff I was privileged to lead, the story is now different. But it is a welcome challenge for me. The same Martha Chizuma who was hired as Ombudsman, the same Martha Chizuma who many felt served the nation diligently, is the same Martha Chizuma who is now serving at the ACB.”
In her role as Ombudsman since December 1 2015, Chizuma also automatically served as a commissioner of the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), a commissioner of Police Service Commission and an inspector of prisons.
To her incoming successor, Chizuma reserved some advice, saying: “The job requires a kind of justice that sometimes ruffles the feathers of the powers that be, as such, one has to be determined and brave actually.
“Without having the interests of the oppressed at heart, it is easy to become an Ombudsman, but just by title. The criticism will always be there, but one has to remain vigilant. Otherwise, this is an equally important office, especially in this democracy.”
Meanwhile, MHRC has led in sending Chizuma some congratulatory messages on her new role.
In a statement released last night, the commission said in her previous role, Chizuma faithfully and diligently served the people of Malawi and the commission as a commissioner responsible for Disability and Elderly Rights; Child Rights; and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights directorates.
In the statement signed by MHRC chairperson Scader Louis, the commission said: “The commission is highly indebted to commissioner Chizuma for her remarkable contribution to the mandate of the commission through her leadership, participation and provision of oversight functions in several low and high-profile human rights violations investigations.
“It is, therefore, indisputable that commissioner Chizuma is leaving the Commission today as one of the most fearless, patriotic and outstanding public protectors and human rights defenders of our time.”
During her tenure as Ombudsman, Chizuma oversaw the handling of 14 224 cases out of which there were 346 determinations and 3 504 cases closed. The office also produced 16 investigative reports from 517 public inquiries conducted.
The office also conducted 124 mobile clinics nationwide during the same period, a move that helped increase awareness of the office among members of the general public.