Hon. Folks, President Lazarus Chakwera finally bowed down to pressure last week and dissolved his Cabinet in a first shakeup that came nearly 20 months since he formed it in July 2020.
Chakwera’s impromptu discharge of the Cabinet on Monday night was triggered by a leaked telephone recording between the director general of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Martha Chizuma and an unknown figure.
In their conversation, the two discussed several issues pertaining to the ongoing joint corruption inquiry of Malawian-born businessperson Zuneth Sattar by ACB and Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) which arrested Sattar in the UK in October last year.
The rest, as they say, is history suffice to say that the joint corruption inquest by ACB and NCA has so far led to the arrest of Kumar Sreedharan― aka Ashok Nair―who was arrested alongside embattled former Lands minister Kezzie Msukwa in December last year.
By Sunday evening, the leaked audio had gone viral online and the State House swiftly issued a notice a day later informing Malawians that Chakwera would address the nation later that night on the crushing audio.
Among others, Chizuma, who later authenticated her voice in the clip to Chakwera, painted a blurred picture of how the much touted war against fraud and corruption is going on besides hinting on some underhand obstacles that are allegedly hindering ACB’s efforts to cleanse the country of the vice.
Therefore, the climax of this episode unfolded almost immediately when Chakwera appeared on State television to pronounce his take on the drama, having met Chizuma in the presence of the then Justice Minister Titus Mvalo pursuant to Section 4(4) of the Corrupt Practises Act.
This Act mandates the ACB director to report to the President and the Minister of Justice on the general conduct of the affairs of the Bureau. Before reshuffling his Cabinet on Monday, Mvalo was Justice Minister and he had not yet been drafted into the reconfigured Cabinet by press time on Thursday afternoon.
Now what fascinated me about Chakwera’s speech was his forced composure that was instantly overtaken by an extreme emphasis on Chizuma’s alleged wrongdoing for her role in the recording.
By the way, in one of her lines the ACB boss discusses her emotional and mental state in the course of conducting her work and mentions a round figure in US dollars, which she believed, exchanged hands since Sattar was nabbed.
Hon. Forks, the President’s forced composure, self-control and calmness was clear that Chakwera had come to ‘fire’ outright or admonish Chizuma so she does not repeat herself.
The President said in part: “she discusses her belief that the justice system in Malawi will not do what is right in handling corruption cases unless it is forced… she affirms the expressed view that there is no one in the whole country in whose hands a bribe has not passed.
“She discusses the defensive attitude of Catholics and Pentecostals to corrupt public officers who may be members of their church, and the pressure those churches are being put under to comply.
“She discusses how we should forget about Civil Society being of any use in the fight against corruption; she discusses rumours she has heard alleging that she no longer has the support of the President who appointed her.”
Forget about allegations of a wrongly ‘embargoed’ speech which the State House mistakenly shared with the media in which Chakwera purportedly suspended Chizuma pending a review of her conduct by a professional and independent committee that would then present its findings to him. This is where Chizuma’s future at ACB was going to end apparently.
By Thursday afternoon, State House had neither commented on the wrongly sent statement nor disowned the statement that made its way to some members of the Fourth Estate.
However, looking at the bigger picture Malawians are better judges on how the country’s fight against corruption is shaping up.
The citizens have eyes to see and surely they are observing anxiously where the Tonse Alliance crusade against corruption, which started robustly when the current administration took over from the previous regime, is going at the moment.
I do not know about you, but from the look of things it appears as if this war has stagnated somewhere and is losing steam and in the absence of a vibrant opposition or civil society to balances the current administration, Malawians can as well bank their hopes on the clergy.
Already we have seen positive movements from the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) which issued statements last week that have partially prompted the President to act fast after deferring his Cabinet reshuffle for a very long time.
May PAC and ECM maintain a watchful eye on the executive, the ACB and other criminal prosecuting agencies so that the battle against corruption benefits the majority of Malawians and not a selected few perched on positions of power.