Malawi’s law enforcement agencies have been known to be blind to ills of serving Government officials and only spring into action when those bureaucrats are either out of Government or no longer serving in official capacities.
Agencies historically have dived on a reported matter, concluded investigations and hid in the dark corner waiting for the right moment politically. The same way lions rely on stalking their prey and seldom charge until they are within distance unless the prey is facing away and cannot see the charge. Political chancing is the word and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has been exactly that under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which was booted out last year for a litany of mischiefs.
To learn that this week, Malawi’s energy minister Newton Kambala and two other top officials, President Lazarus Chakwera’s chief adviser on strategy Chris Chaima Banda and Tonse Alliance partner Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Enoch Chihana were swiped on corruption-related charges is kind of unprecedented.
The arrests follow investigations into the involvement of Kambala and the two other officials in the award of fuel supply contracts at the state-run National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma). The graft-busting body, ACB, received complaints alleging corruption in the way Nocma conducted the process to award contracts to supply 40 000 metric tons fuel.
Kambala, Chaima-Banda and Chihana remain innocent. They are presumed innocent as every person accused of any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. ACB has the legal burden of proof to model the prosecution with compelling evidence to secure convictions otherwise the trio do have chance to as well walk free. Actually, even suffocate account number one with suits running into good millions.
What is candid and coming out now is that probably the existence of formal rules which do not involve a choice between particular ends or particular people is apparent in the justice system or what is legally known as rule of law.
This presence of rule of law could be the beginning of a new dawn. Kambala is the first sitting minister to be arrested in over two decades and likely will lose his cabinet post.
It is unusual on this column to pat Chakwera on the back, but folks let us give it to the man. He has created an environment in which the new ACB tsar, firebrand Martha Chizuma and her foot soldiers are able to operate independently. Eventually, this promotes the freedom of the Judiciary and conversely the freedom of the judiciary is not only enhanced but would-be offenders will have to think deeply and twice before engaging in boisterous activities.
In a crackdown on corruption, President Chakwera, canned his labour minister Ken Kandodo in April and arrested 19 government officials for fraudulent use of funds meant to fight the coronavirus. No one has been convicted thus far, but this looks like Chakwera’s promise to stamp out corruption in government has started in earnest. Look, his own Advisor on special duties Pastor Martin Thom was nabbed last week, Police were not inhibitted and the once man-of-collar fighting for his revival on the smuggling of the bill to Parliament illegally.
These events look easy today because they are happening but in the past especially during the DPP regime would not allow such occurrences. We have lived a life of untouchables.
This is progress and sends a message to Cabinet ministers and senior officials in Government that it might seem Chakwera will not protect anyone. Everyone who commits crimes will be on their own and solace is now only obtainable in acting with integrity.
This Government of 10 political parties is not an easy polygamous arrangement and Kambala being UTM, one would have thought of an immediate rift but the country is calm and encouragingly UTM spokesperson Frank Mwenefumbo has said the party does not oppose or take a stand on the arrest of Kambala.
That is the spirit.
It might sound like a line from the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie, but in Malawi the tenet that “no one is above the law” is becoming the essence of the rule of law. Now whatever his or her status or rank is every person is subject to the ordinary laws of the land.
This in itself attracts investor confidence and is a good basis for donors to start supporting law enforcement agencies like ACB.
Godot, we waited for long!