Britain and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) have cautioned Malawi Government to follow the law in replacing Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) director general Atuweni Juwayeyi Agbermodji whose contract expired.
Despite the government’s decision not to extend her contract, British High Commissioner Holly Tett in an interview described Agbermodji as “a dedicated and hardworking woman who made FIA effective”.
She said: “The UK has been impressed by the quality of leadership demonstrated by her. Under her leadership, good progress has been made in reducing Malawi’s financial crimes risk.”
Tett said the UK is looking forward to working with a new director general, but asked Malawi Government to be transparent in selecting the new FIA chief as stated by the law.
FIA took a leading role in investigations into the police food rations deal involving a firm owned by a businessperson of Asian origin who later deposited K145 million into a Democratic Progressive Party bank account whose sole signatory was President Peter Mutharika.
On his part, HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence accused government of lacking commitment to fight corruption by deciding not to renew Agbermodji’s contract.
He said: “They [government] don’t want officers who are ethical and professional. That is why they are firing the director general to appoint their own cronies.”
But in a separate interview, Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani, who is also the official government spokesperson, dismissed Trapence’s assertions, saying “by January 1 FIA will have a new competent director general”.
The FIA director general is appointed by the President following a competitive interviewing and recruitment process, but is subject to confirmation by the Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament.
To appoint the director general, the law requires that the post be advertised and allow a minimum of 14 days, more likely 21 to 28 days, for applications to be submitted.
Shortlisted candidates have to have references taken up and due diligence checks done as per Section 7(3)) of the Financial Crimes Act. Thereafter, the minister submits at least two names or a maximum of three names for the President to choose from.
It is a long process; hence, Botomani’s assertion that “by January 1” the director-general could be in place may be a tall order.
FIA is a government agency set up by the Act of Parliament to monitor, investigate and fight money laundering, tracking illicit transactions with the mandate to freeze suspicious accounts in the country’s commercial banks.
Meanwhile, FIA director of monitoring and analysis Vincent Chipeta is acting as director general, but the institution’s operations are still paralysed because only the director or deputy director is responsible for signing orders used to freeze accounts of suspected to be keeping proceeds of crimes.