By James Bwanali
Martha Chizuma, Malawi Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General, is not new to controversies, for several times before her conduct has invited so many questions regarding her capacity to hold such a high office which requires the strict adherence of ethics and professionalism.
Memories are still fresh of leaked audio where she was discussing some issues relating to some technicalities on some ongoing cases under her custody. In what was described as the breach of oath of secrecy, some called for her immediate dismissal, and it took the State President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera to pardon her, albeit with a serious warning never to do any act of that nature again.
Tuesday June 21 was the defining moment in the fight against corruption as President
Chakwera made one of the boldest and decisive action on some of senior public officials within his administration allegedly implicated in the corruption scandal involving businessman Zunneth Sattar.
The highlight of President Chakwera’s pragmatic decision is the crippling of the delegated responsibilities to his Vice President Saulos Chilima. As expected in the aftermath of what could be described as the defining moment in the fight against corruption, there is an apparent attempt to twist the narrative of President Chakwera’s genuine concern on the irregular conduct of the ACB.
The ACB Director General, in her wisdom, copied a report meant for the Head of State to the Chief Justice and Speaker of Parliament despite her having a legislative obligation through the Corrupt Practices Act to do what the President asked her to do: providing a report within 21 days so that as the one holding executive powers should have a full picture before weighing in on the alleged culprits of corruption as mentioned in the UK court documents.
President Chakwera’s concern emanated from the fact that Chizuma’s action contradicts Section 4 of the Corrupt Practices Act which stipulates that the Bureau’s “Director shall submit reports to the President and the Minister of Justice regarding the general conduct of the Bureau.”
Unless the ACB comes up with another section in the Corrupt Practice Act which supports her action, Chizuma acted outside the law. As the President explicitly stated that the two are not mandated by law to have the custody of the report just like the rest of the citizenry except the President himself and the Minister of Justice, in this scenario the two are not entitled as per the cited Section 4 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
President Chakwera was right to feel hard done by Chizuma’s conduct which contravenes the law she is required to be guided with at all cost. Without a doubt, the two branches Legislative and the Judiciary are as equally important as the Executive arm but the law was supposed to be respected as it encourages the separation of powers, and no matter their importance, the two were not to be privileged with the report at this material time.
As the Malawi leader wondered in the address by saying: “I find it irregular because the Bureau already stated in the report that it cannot release the list of individuals implicated to the public to avoid prejudicing people who may otherwise be innocent, and yet the same Bureau has already gone ahead to release to the other two public officers that are bound by the law to keep it confidential.”
Chizuma’s conduct defies any logic in every manner of thought. As rightly noted by the State President on one hand Chizuma denies Malawians access to the report while the other hand gives the heads of the two branches access to the report despite the two extreme ends having no legal backing to access it.
In a volatile political environment like ours, the ACB conduct may seem small in some people’s eyes but the bigger picture is that its conduct may have serious implication on the law. The ACB is an institution founded on the law and it discharges its duties solely on the premise of law. The ACB may have some good intention for sharing the report with the two branches of government but doing so outside the legal provisions defeats the spirit of the law.
President Chakwera had this important insight in his address which need serious reflection: “Since the Bureau fears that reading the report may lead to prejudice, it should have avoided potentially prejudicing the Chief Justice most of all, considering that the cases under investigation will be tried before the courts and may very well end before the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court for the independent appeals.”
What President Chakwera raised in this statement resonate with what Chizuma herself was quoted in that leaked audio questioning the judiciary’s credibility in effectively handling cases of this magnitude since some Judges are alleged to have been bribed by Sattar. Now if Malawians are denied the report for fear of prejudicing the ongoing investigations and subsequent trials, the judiciary is even more liable to prejudice than an ordinary Malawian because of its proximity to power and people of influence.
There will be so many arguments in Chizuma’s defence but one thing is clear, Chizuma has proved overtime to be unethical and so compromised an attribute not deserving her office.