Quasi-religious body Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has asked government to discontinue the protracted prosecution of former president Bakili Muluzi on corruption charges relating to K1.7 billion he allegedly diverted to a personal bank account.
The proposal is among several other points PAC has raised in its statement assessing the year 2020. The assessment tackles governance issues, including fulfillment of campaign promises by the new Tonse Alliance administration led by President Lazarus Chakwera, rising cases of gender-based violence (GBV), public sector reforms and management of Covid-19, among others.
In the statement, co-signed by PAC chairperson Monsignor Patrick Thawale and publicity secretary the Reverend Gilford Matonga, the body cites the lengthy court case that dates back to 2005 as a waste of public funds; hence, the need to discontinue it and find a political solution.
PAC also cites previously pronounced positions by Chakwera and members of his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) who allegedly also called for discontinuance of Muluzi’s case.
Reads the statement in part: “In this regard, PAC recalls the manner in which the Bakili Muluzi case of K1.7 billion has been handled. We question the rationale of spending taxpayers’ money in such matter which has not yielded results in the past 14 years.
“PAC is of the view that the matter be discontinued through dialogue in a bid to secure a political solution. The government expenditure on such a prolonged matter is huge and the tendency to activate such a matter for political gains has been a dent in the pursuit of the rule of law.
“The use of a statute in such a manner is tantamount to the ‘weaponisation’ of the law, a view that has been previously voiced. The position we advocate for is in consonant with an observation made on 15th July 2016 by Malawi Congress Party president and leader of opposition in Parliament, as he then was, Dr Lazarus Chakwera who asked government to drop all cases in respect of former president Bakili Muluzi.”
The statement also specifically cites a statement made by Kasungu South East member of Parliament Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, now Minister of Health, on February 25 2020 during parliamentary deliberations, asking government to drop the charges against Muluzi.
But in an interview yesterday, Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo was quick to point out that the fate of any such cases lies with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) which has the constitutional mandate to review all prosecutions by the State.
He said: “I have not seen the document by PAC, so it’s difficult for me to competently make a comment. But understand that in the Constitution, the office of DPP is an independent office, they have the mandate to continue the case or not. As a minister, I cannot interfere.”
On his part, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence yesterday warned that such a move would fundamentally undermine the fight against corruption in the country.
He said: “For us, we are against that proposal. No one is above the law. We don’t want to create individuals who are sacred under the law.
“If the case is dragging, there must be officers who are failing their duty and those must be held accountable. We shouldn’t politicise cases, all cases must be treated equally regardless of the status of an individual.”
Besides the Muluzi case, PAC also says it has observed slow progress in other corruption and criminal cases being prosecuted by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Malawi Police Service. It says this “cast doubt as to whether the latter arrests were made in good faith”.
The group, which has also applauded government on several positive steps, has also voiced out discontent over the appointment of the Cabinet, repeating the public outcry over family ties in the team and failure to fulfill the Gender Equality Act which requires 60-40 representation of either men or women in public appointments.
PAC has also described as positive strides Chakwera’s appearance in Parliament to answer questions from legislators, new approach to appointments in the civil service, engagement of former president Peter Mutharika and updating Malawians on what the government is doing.
Reads the statement: “In the same sphere of leadership, PAC wishes to take pride in assessing the working relationship between the Head of State and his Vice-President. This has been an issue during previous regimes. We note that the political posture between the two leaders in alliance looks good and would like to encourage such a leadership path.”