Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has received a backlash from some governance experts and legal minds for its proposal to have the protracted prosecution of former president BakiliMuluzi on K1.7 billion corruption charges discontinued.
In its end of the year 2020 assessment statement, the representative body of various religious denominations proposed that Muluzi’s prosecution, which has dragged since 2006, should be discontinued due to excessive costs to the taxpayer with no end in sight.
On Tuesday, scores of Malawians took to social media to react to the proposal, mostly faulting PAC—which has played a key role in the country’s democracy since 1992—for the proposal. Other commentators told The Nation that the move would undermine the fight against corruption.
In an interview on Tuesday, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Burton Mhango rejected the proposal by PAC, saying it was elevating politics over rule of law.
He said: “Our view is that PAC is attempting to elevate politics above all other means of resolving a legal dispute which we think is a very insensitive proposal to the rule of law.
“We are aware that Section 13 of the Constitution sanctifies peaceful settlement of disputes. We do not, however, think these should include criminal charges. Statements or calls made in Parliament cannot override the legal procedures.”
Mhango said the Law Society believes that the law itself provides appropriate framework of dealing with the concerns raised by PAC regarding the criminal proceedings against Muluzi. He said the lawyers’ body would not recommend a political solution to a legal problem.
Human rights lawyer Chrispin Sibande said in a separate interview on Tuesday that the criminal case against Muluzi “is a very serious one” because it touches on the foundations of democracy, rule of law, abuse of presidential powers and presidential accountability while in office.
He said adopting PAC’s proposal would be tantamount to ‘glorifying’ corruption.
Said Sibande: “BakiliMuluzi is alleged to have stolen money as a head of State and government. He is alleged to have used presidential powers for corrupt activities. These are very serious allegations.
“It is concerning looking at the levels of corruption and abuse of office which has led to the country losing billions of kwacha that could have benefitted the poor. Corruption is said to be cancerous in Malawi.”
He said the best way forward is to prosecute Muluzi and have the case concluded in court.
Former Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigator Allan Ntata, who also served as former president BinguwaMutharika’s legal adviser, also questioned the rationale behind abandoning the case due to costs. He said the major costs in the case were spent during investigations.
“The major issue here is why the case has taken long and that should be the focus of PAC’s inquiry. There is no political solution to a court matter. The case has delayed because of politics but we shouldn’t let people go scot-free just because of the time it has taken to bring people to justice,” he said.
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), an influential civil society group, was among the first to dismiss the idea as a potential blow to the country’s fight against corruption and set wrong precedence.
But in an interview, lawyer Tamando Chokotho, who is representing Muluzi in the case, welcomed the PAC proposal, saying the case has no legal basis allegedly because the State has failed to prove the allegations against Muluzi.
He said: “The ACB director previously mentioned it [the political solution]. We mentioned it for a while. It will be very welcome. Some of the issues are still in court, but principally we welcome the discontinuance.”
PAC spokesperson Gilford Matonga, who was also a co-signatory to the statement, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Muluzi, Malawi’s president from 1994 to 2004, is accused of diverting a donation from Morocco into his personal account. He is also accused of failing to account for wealth investigators found in his bank accounts and verified property which was not corresponding to his known economic means contrary to Section 32 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
In its proposal, jointly signed by Matonga and chairperson Monsignor Patrick Thawale, PAC cited the length of the court case and wastage of taxpayer money as chief reasons why the case must be discontinued and called for the authorities to instead find a solution.
The statement further called upon the new administration to drop the case, citing previously pronounced positions of President Lazarus Chakwera and members of his party, who allegedly, also called for discontinuing of the case against Muluzi.
In his instant reaction on Monday evening, Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo the fate of any such cases lies with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) which has constitutional mandate to review all prosecutions by the State.