As the police vehicle whisked Christopher Mzomera Ngwira away from Mzimba Magistrate Court to prison where he would serve a four-year jail term, his relatives could not hold it, but break into tears.
Women, both old and young, mobbed the vehicle and cried loudly, ‘our son, our son, why are you taking him away from us, why ‘God have you forsaken us’, while beating their chests in anger.
Mzomera Ngwira, a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regional governor for the North—donning a Ngoni warrior headgear—tried to show strength by raising his handcuffed hands.
But he knew the journey to prison had begun, and his time on the podium, where he had been preaching the gospel had come to an end, at least for the next four years.
His son, who was visibly heartbroken, had to be held from hitting the ground, while his wife Martha, legislator for Mzimba Hora, who replaced him after he was declared bankrupt and could not contest in the 2019 polls, stood motionless in disbelief.
High profile opposition DPP figures Jappie Mhango and Simon Vuwa Kaunda, who were led by Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa to the sentencing, stood a few yards away as their regional governor was led away.
The DPP, which is now at the blink of losing two of its senior officials to prison cells did not clearly come out to speak on the convictions.
Party spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira on Friday cut the line several times when contacted for comment.
Mzomera Ngwira, who was prosecuted by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for diverting K650 000 from the Local Development Fund (LDF) and had earlier reimbursed some of the money, was on September 28 found guilty of misusing public office.
The court heard that the former member of Parliament (MP) for Mzimba Hora abused his office as MP to award a contract.
Under the Corrupt Practices Act, the maximum sentence for those found guilty is 12-years in jail.
During sentencing, senior resident magistrate Matthews Msiska questioned Mzomera Ngwira’s character as a reverend and leader in the community.
He said: “Being a public officer the convict would have promoted transparency and accountability in his dealings, but he did not.”
Msiska, therefore, went on to sentence him to 48 months imprisonment with hard labour and revoked his bail.
ACB director of legal and prosecution Chrispin Khunga expressed satisfaction with the conviction and sentence.
But the defence counsel, Victor Gondwe of John Tennyson and Associates, said he would appeal both conviction and sentence.
He said: “We are not satisfied with the sentence and even the conviction of the case. We are going to appeal to the High Court.”
In an earlier interview, ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said Mzomera Ngwira’s conviction will serve as a lesson to other high-profile figures to avoid abusing public resources.
He told The Nation: “For us, the matter was not really about the amount of money but the profile of the accused person as a member of Parliament [MP]. He is a public figure and he should have been exemplary. There have been many complaints about MPs abusing public resources.”
Matemba said the case also highlights the anti-graft body’s commitment to prosecute all cases indiscriminately.
He said ACB is also prosecuting the former MP on seven other counts of abuse of office related to other LDF funds.
The ACB arrested Mzomera Ngwira in January 2018 following an allegation of abuse of LDF funds in his constituency.
Investigations by the bureau established that Mzomera Ngwira advised the project management committee to sign blank withdrawal slips and told them not to indicate the total amount to be withdrawn and thereafter, filled the blank withdraw slip with an amount of K650 000.
According to ACB, the figure was reduced to K250 000 in court after it transpired that the former MP later refunded K400 000.
Mzomera Ngirwa’s sentence comes barely two days after DPP presidential aspirant Uladi Mussa was convicted in the passport fraud case committed when he served as minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security in 2013.
High Court Judge Chifundo Kachale said he found Mussa, Immigration official David Kwanjana and Ugandan Peter Katasha guilty on the charge of use of public office to the advantage of another and neglect of official duty. Both face 12 years in jail.
It also comes after a magistrate court in Zomba in July sent to jail former legislator for Zomba Malosa, Anderson Undani and his personal assistant Pangani Nazombe for abusing project materials purchased with CDF for construction of a teacher’s house.
The convictions and sentences, according to governance and policy analyst Rafiq Hajat must serve as a lesson to all holders of public offices that the law does not grow old on the corrupt.
“The law has taken its course…the culture of impunity is being eroded and the people will realise now that nobody is above the law. Perhaps this will to some extent, curb the level of corruption that has undermined the very fabric of our nation.
“The lesson is quite clear, that current holders of offices must abide by their responsibilities and refrain from abusing power as we were stealing from the public cash-box,” he said.