The Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a quasi-religious governance watchdog, should know better why Malawians want to see and have a logical conclusion of the Bakili Muluzi K1.7 billion case. And that such a conclusion should not come through discontinuance of the case simply because it has taken long and wasted a lot of taxpayers’ money.
As a governance watchdog, PAC should actually have been in the forefront of pushing all relevant bodies to expedite the case which has been running for 14 years now. Just what has happened to PAC?
For starters, while serving as president, Muluzi and his former personal assistant Lyness Whiskey are believed to have diverted donor money amounting to K1.7 billion into their personal accounts.
This week, PAC chairperson Patrick Thawale and the organisations’s publicity secretary Rev Gilford Matonga, co-signed a statement urging government to drop the case against the octogenarian former president who ruled Malawi from 1994 to 2004.
Why this case should get to a logical conclusion is because Malawians want justice and fairness to be seen and done. Justice on the accused and fairness to Malawians. Muluzi and Whiskey have not yet been proved guilty. Be that as it may, they carry this heavy yoke that they might be convicted as such until proven innocent. But such innocence is only conferred by the courts of law. Discontinuing the case will therefore make some Malawians conclude Muluzi stole the money and has only been saved by old age or by the fact that government is wasting a lot of money which could have been used to service other sectors.
On his part, Muluzi, the first democratically elected president who ruled from 1994 to 2004, and who has pleaded not guilty to the case, should also be keen to see the case disposed of through the courts.
From a governance perspective, government would be setting a very bad precedence to discontinue the case simply because of the length it has taken. How many cases have taken over two decades and counting but are still in court? How much has government spent on many cases with no prospect of seeing light at the end of the day, but is still spending millions on them?
The argument PAC is making can be likened to saying ‘let’s close prisons because government is spending billions of its good money running them’. Yet we know the all-important roles of reformation and deterrence that prisons play. Discontinuing Muluzi’s case would run counter to these goals.
PAC’s argument that the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) already expressed its support for the idea when it was in opposition does not hold water. Admitted, on February 25 last year, Kasungu South East legislator Khumbize Chiponda during deliberations in Parliament called for the discontinuance of the case. Chiponda said besides wasting money on the case, Muluzi is ageing and at 80 the case is tortuous on him.
Truth is that Chiponda as well as MCP just used the case as a political tool to silence Muluzi whose son Atupele contested in the 2020 presidential elections against MCP’s presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader Peter Mutharika and UTM Party’s torch bearer Saulos Chilima. Ask Chiponda or MCP today if they still stand by their statement on discontinuing the case. That was podium rhetoric. In fact, MCP is now where DPP was when the former opposition party made that statement. Why has the party not implemented what it wanted the DPP-led administration to do six months in power?
As a matter of fact, it is not only MCP which used the case to silence Muluzi. Almost all ruling parties have been doing the same, always reviving the K1.7 billion case in court towards an election year. It’s part of the political game. But still it does not count as a reason, not even a weak one, for government to discontinue this or any other case. As a governance watchdog itself, PAC should be the last body to be calling for discontinuation of the case.