The conviction of Thom Mpinganjira, one of the richest Malawians and owner of the third largest bank in the country concludes, at least for now, one of the intriguing political and legal cases of our time.
But it must not go without comment. If anything, the fall from grace of one of the real-life self-made billionaires of our time, must serve as a lesson to this and generations to come, for people of all walks and stripes of life, that our democracy and country, is not for sale.
Indeed, there are just too many in this country who believe that our country’s fate should be exchanged for a few bucks. If anyone wanted any evidence, at all, that such sellouts exist in this country, and in large numbers, the army of placard-carrying zealots who trooped to the High Court premises in Blantyre to support a would-be bribery convict on Friday offered the answer.
Just as we had seen earlier when Enoch Chihana, Newton Kambala and Chris Chaima Banda were nabbed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for allegedly attempting to bribe National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) officials to influence the awarding of multi-million contracts, a bus full of UTM Party supporters desperately tried to defend the indefensible at the court.
The court nonetheless delivered its verdict the way it deemed fit, that Mpinganjira attempted to bribe the five judges. It was a sad moment for a man who for years was a highly respected, hardworking businessman, building an enviable business empire, before the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) tainted his record, once and for all.
Not even the belated bailout of one of the country’s most popular football teams can gross over the folly of his actions.
The lesson here is that power corrupts. The more the erstwhile ruling DPP and its support system got more corrupt, the more it became so reckless that it disfranchised the ordinary folk to the point that rigging an election, buying judges with parcels of money and using the police to quell peaceful protests became the only option for survival. They found a nation too determined to prevent that system’s preservation.
As a businessman cozy to the DPP, Mpinganjira got entrapped in that vicious circle. Mpinganjira insists he had no political ambition, but whatever motivations drew him to the judge-buying project, he left himself at odds with the law, the people of this country and God. The voice of the people, as the Romans said, is the voice of God.
Yet, all this could have ended differently if it were not for the morals and convictions of a few people who refused to sell their ethics and their country for all the money Mpinganjira’s banks, trusts huge pockets could offer.
High Court Judge Mike Tembo refused that the election case should be sold. Once contacted by his fellow church congregant, he reported the matter to the whole team of judges who, in turn, reported it to the Chief Justice, who also took it to ACB. Braving any threats, former ACB boss Reyneck Matemba arrested the man.
The military stepped in to protect the judges.
They all did the right thing, and served this country well.
The reason this country is very poor is because, more often than not, many duty-bearers, including those in accountability institutions—Judiciary, police, ACB, civil society, media—and those in procurement, in regulatory bodies and other important institutions, choose money over the rule of law. Or, the country!
As Justice Dorothy de Gabrielle rightly observed in her ruling, the claims by Mpinganjira of offering huge sums of money to the country’s political elite ought to be probed, too. It smacks corruption and influence peddling in my rudimentary understanding of the law but it’s also a symptom of the cancer of political financing in the country and the absence of morals among our political leaders, including those who preach against corruption while behind the scenes pocketing huge amounts of money as detailed in the Mpinganjira court case. Those, too, are sellouts and hypocrites.