Various socio-economic and legal experts have hailed the 11-year jail term which Justice Redon Kapindu meted out on ‘chief cashgater’ Oswald Lutepo at the High Court in Zomba yesterday.
On the first count of conspiracy to defraud government, Lutepo was slapped with the maximum sentence of three years imprisonment with hard labour (IHL) while money laundering earned him eight years IHL.
In an emailed response yesterday, national secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Chris Chisoni, said the sentence offers a moral lesson to all public officials that abuse their offices.
He further said it reminds such officers that they depend on “a broken reed that cannot protect them when justice is sought”.
Said Chisoni: “This ruling offers a possible realisation that if you are in power, you are not above the law and in one way, if you abuse your office, the long arm of the law will catch up with you.
“It gives hope for the nation to have confidence in our justice system and that wrong-doers will not go scotfree at the expense of the majority poor.”
Chisoni described as a pity revelations that some of Lutepo’s loot was used to sponsor a weaker Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate during the party’s convention so that the then ruling People’s Party (PP), to which Lutepo belonged, should have an easy ride during the 2014 tripartite elections.
Concurring with Chisoni, political analyst Boniface Dulani said the sentence restores the public trust in the justice system.
While admitting that the 11 years do not bring back the stolen money and international support the country has lost due to Cashgate, Dulani said the sentence gives a sense of justice and retribution on behalf of the citizenry.
He also said Cashgate has led to the erosion of public confidence in political leadership.
“It shows that politicians are self-serving and they will go to great lengths to steal at the expense of ordinary Malawians. Restoring this confidence will take a long time.
“Of course, the conviction and sentencing raises suspicions that who else in the PP knew about Lutepo’s involvement in Cashgate and whether other senior members of the party might have benefitted from the looting, either directly or indirectly,” he said.
On the economic front, executive director for Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn), Dalitso Kubalasa, urged government to prosecute all other perpetrators still scot-free.
Kubalasa said the sentence marks the beginning of a momentum to the painfully slow progress of the “sad and ugly episode of Cashgate”.
“Hopefully though, this will add to the momentum pushing us all to, at all times, resolve to “…always strive to be persons of high integrity, not fooled with the temptations of living in a fool’s paradise, whether we are ordinary citizens, government officials, civil society, politicians or even development partners in Malawi,” he enthused.
Before the sentencing, Lutepo urged all those involved in Cashgate to come out in the open as he did.
Sunduzwayo Madise: Pretty stiff sentence! Starting point for money laundering after a guilty plea was seven. This is because courts normally reduce by a third in a guilty plea. But the court definitely thought there were enough aggravating factors to enhance it to eight. For conspiracy to defraud, that is the maximum sentence, showing the court thought Oswald Lutepo did not deserve any leniency. To order that the sentences run consecutively illustrates that the court felt these were grave offences and a message needed to be sent to Lutepo as well as others out there.
Dominic Mang’anda: It is a fair judgment, if only he was just a conduit. However, looking at the misery Cashgate has brought to Malawians, the judgment is unfair. K4.2 billion deserves a stiffer punishment, if we are to root corruption out of public service.
Hastings Ndalama: Everyone is excited as if this changes and improves anything. Open your eyes and see what is going on! People are still dying in hospitals. The kwacha continues to get weaker by the day, and you celebrate here as if the arresting of this thief changes anything. The real thieves are seated in their comfortable chairs while you clap hands for the one guy who was used as a scapegoat.
Shadrick Kachule: Here was a millionaire who could have utilised his potential to grow his revenue rather than use shortcuts!