Former president Bakili Muluzi’s corruption case has been stuck in the courts for years.
During this period, three presidents have occupied the position he held when K1.7 billion from Libya allegedly ended up in his personal account–Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda, and now, Peter Mutharika.
Bingu and Banda are gone, but the court only ruled this week that Muluzi, like all public servants, must account for his wealth.
In the dramatic case, the businessperson, who ruled in the first decade of democracy following the capitulation of founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s one-party era, wriggles like a catfish in muddy waters he is accustomed to—politics.
The case involving the self-styled political engineer, who founded the United Democratic Front (UDF) in an uprising against Kamuzu’s reign of terror, has taken a snails paced for about 12 years.
Since 2006, “technicalities” have held back the lengthy battle of learned lawyers in the courts where justice, nothing else, ought to prevail.
However, Chancellor College political scientist Happy Kayuni says politics may have been subtly at play, though nothing apparent shows Muluzi’s successors interfered with the courts.
He speaks of “informal happenings” that indicate how politics might have crept in.
“In developing countries such as Malawi, there are many ‘informal’ things that may influence political decisions,” he says.
The analyst cites the informal relationship between UDF and the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Before what outspoken Balaka North legislator Lucius Banda calls an “unwritten alliance”, Muluzi’s party flirted with Banda’s People’s Party (PP).
“We know that Muluzi has an influence on UDF and his decisions can influence the party. His son is in Mutharika’s Cabinet. So, we can informally see the connection,” says Kayuni.
Muluzi is using his son, who came fourth in 2014 presidential race.
Kayuni says that interests of Mutharika, who appointed UDF president Atupele Muluzi as Minister of Health, could be to win the yellow party’s supporters in the South-Eastern region while the Muluzis want some reprieve.
In politics, nothing happens by accident.
“If something happens, then it was planned that way,” said former United States president Franklin D Roosevelt.
But UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga dismisses this conspiracy theory that portrays Muluzi as a grandmaster in a game of chess where his son is being used as a pawn.
He reckons the UDF founder is not benefitting in any way from the party’s dealings with DPP.
He explains: “As a party, we are not aware of an arrangement that UDF formed an alliance with DPP to protect Dr Muluzi from prosecution.
“Muluzi himself has never told us at any point that he is scared of prosecution.”
However, some ex-presidents used the case to sail against political waves.
Bingu, whose administration initiated the trial of Muluzi after dumping UDF to form DPP, was cautious when dealing with his mentor-turned-nemesis.
When Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director Gustave Kaliwo arrested Muluzi in July 2006 on 42 counts of corruption, Bingu later sacked him.
On July 29 2006, Weekend Nation quoted three ministers who slammed Muluzi’s arrest as “ill-timed, dangerous and likely to further inflame the toxic backlash government was enduring in Parliament.
“No one I have spoken to in Cabinet or government feels Muluzi should have been arrested at a time when we are struggling to pass the budget,” said one minister.
In July 2007, speaking from his holiday in London, Muluzi himself warned against a rumoured arrest, saying it would stir unnecessary unrest and political problems.
“Each time I am in England and returning home, there are these reports [that ACB will arrest me on arrival]. Rumours of my arrest would just fuel tension in the country. Is this the way we should be living?” he asked.
The question may have been best answered by his chosen heir–Bingu.
Muluzi later found himself commuting between courts in Blantyre and a sickbed in South Africa.
While lawyers were battling the legality of putting the former leader’s finances under scrutiny, a slip in spinal discs required him to be on the plane to South Africa where he was reportedly undergoing specialist treatment.
Muluzi enjoyed a breather when Bingu died of heart attack and Banda took over in April 2012.
While some ministers announced that they would not allow her to succeed Bingu because she formed her own party, Muluzi went on air to say the first female president, then deputy president, was supposed to take over in line with constitutional order.
In what was largely seen as a payback, Banda named Atupele as Minister of Economic Planning and Development in her first Cabinet.
During Banda’s two years in power, Muluzi took a break from court appearances as the slow case briefly came to a stop.
Now the wheels of justice are back in slow motion.
Last Wednesday, the Constitutional Court in Blantyre upheld the ‘validity of some sections of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) which obliges Muluzi and all public servants to account for their wealth.
Although Muluzi has appealed the ruling, the ruling swings the case in motion.
Meanwhile, Malawians are still holding their breaths as they wait to know whether the political engineer, who ruled from 1994 to 2004, is innocent or guilty. n