Parliament—through the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), which is chaired by Speaker Richard Msowoya—should not be the first to stifle President Peter Mutharika’s promise to ‘fire and prosecute’ any public officers involved in corrupt practices.
Look, deputy speakers Esther Mcheka-Chilenje and Clement Chiwaya, by virtue of being paid by taxpayers, are bona fide public officers.
But the two, without a word minced, have acted in great dishonour of their names and, again, in clear breach of public trust.
Here is the story: My colleague Rebecca Chimjeka, using her fine investigative tactics, revealed in Weekend Nation that the two, despite staying in their own houses where they are entitled to K250 000 per month, were getting an additional K300 000 every month on the pretext that they were staying in rented houses. Imagine!
When Weekend Nation published the story, the two, as it is always the case with politicians caught pants down, came out dismissive, denying committing any crime.
But time has its own ways of establishing the truth. This week, a letter from PSC—like an angel falling from the high—confirmed what Weekend Nation unveiled.
Acting Clerk of Parliament (CoP) Renard Mapemba, in a letter dated October 9 2015 to the two, states that the PSC has resolved that Parliament should immediately ‘cease paying house rentals pegged at K550 000 since there is evidence’ that the two live in their own houses.
Now look here: It is, of course, necessary that PSC—after established that the two lied that they were living in rented premises when they were living in their own houses—has decided to stopped paying the two K550 000 and reverted to K250 000.
But that decision, though necessary, is not enough to address the larger corruption-related problem which the action of the two represents.
One, the K550 000 which Parliament was paying them was based on the information the two provided, that they were living in rented premises. Now that PSG has established that the two were living in their own houses, it means the two provided false information to Parliament, a public body.
I am not a lawyer, but I have not forgotten that Lucius Banda was once arrested, tried by a competent court of law and convicted for providing false information to Parliament, a public.
My lawyer friend tells me that providing false information to a public body is a criminal offence. I need to find out, from the same lawyer friend, if the actions of the two deputies are within this context.
Two, if PSC has established, today, that the two despite living in their houses but were getting K550 000, it means the two have been pocketing taxpayers’ money unjustly. Oh yes! In fact, I agree with Chancellor College associate professor of law Edge Kanyongolo, who advances that PSC should ‘endeavour to recover the money the two unjustly got from taxpayers’.
Lastly, there is an issue of institutional integrity at play here. You see, Parliament, as an arm of government, is an institution of integrity and that is why its members are addressed as ‘honourables’.
The two—Chilenje and Chiwaya—by virtue of being Parliament’s second most powerful individuals, are symbols of our Parliament. Guilty or not, their actions do not reflect well on the institution they are its symbol. They have created an impression of a Parliament where honourable members are bent at defrauding taxpayers to enrich themselves.
That said, given the context the country is in—I am talking about the Cashgate which has left the country in deep economic turmoil—it is not the right time to let public officers, whose actions are questionable, to cling to office.
The integrity and corruption fight stakes are high in the case of these two deputies. My fear is if we leave the two in the office and not investigate their actions further, we will set a bad precedent in the way we should be curbing irregularities in our public institutions.
I would love if the two, out of saving their face, resigned immediately from their offices. To be honest, they are not looking good.
In the event that they resist, which is always the case with our politicians, I am sure Parliament will do the needful to curb such malpractices with taxpayers’ money.
Otherwise, I will end where I begun: Parliament—through the PSC which is chaired by Speaker Richard Msowoya—should not, in any way, stifle President Mutharika’s promise to ‘fire and prosecute’ any public official involved in allegedly corrupt practices. Thanks.