By James Phiri
Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General Martha Chizuma has 18-months left on her three-year contract. Chizuma took up her office at ACB, straight from her successful sojourn as an Ombudsman, with pomp, drama and much hype sending signals that probably Malawi has found that chosen one who would be able to deal with corruption which, to say the least, has reached a cancerous proportion in the country.
Now, just like the deafening noise that accompanied her appointment, 18-months down the line, the noise is back and this time louder.
Ironically, the noise is mostly coming from the same culprits, only that this time around it is no longer in support of the “Iron Lady” of a year and half ago, but rather calling for her to leave the office through self-resignation or the authorities to show no mercy but fire her.
Reason. She has dismally performed and embarrassingly failed to move at the pace that Malawians were expecting.
The message is clear across different public forums including social media and radio broadcasts, that people would not want Chizuma see another day in the office.
In a recent News Talk phone-in program on Capital Radio, Malawians rated Chizuma poorly as ACB DG with 90% of them feeling that she has failed and demanding that she should leave the Bureau by either resigning or fired.
One caller to the phone in program who identified himself as Dan Mafuleka calling from Lirangwe
said: “Martha Chizuma has been given enough resources to to execute her responsibilities but she has failed miserably. Honestly, I did not expect she will still be at ABC given her poor performance in the last one year.”
Another caller identified as Ephraim Zuze from Thyolo said: “For as long as Chizuma is at ACB the fight against corruption is a futile mission. ACB needs someone strong and who cannot be easily swayed, manipulated and intimidated.”
Social commentator and analyst Humphrey Mvula recently also weighed in on the Chizuma debate arguing despite that President Chakwera supporting the Bureau, the efforts are being frustrated by the Director General.
With such a record, come February 2024, Chizuma will have to be accountable for what she has achieved at the graft-busting body.
When one compares her with her predecessors, one would be forced to agree with the sentiments raised by most Malawians.
Her immediate predecessor Reyneck Matemba started and concluded several high-profile cases and secured convictions. These high-profile cases include those of business guru Thom Mpinganjira, former Cabinet Minister Uladi Mussa, and former Member of Parliament for Mzimba Hora Mzomera Ngwira.
Matemba is one of the ACB bosses who was talking less but was not tired of going to court and doing what he was appointed to do.
The same cannot be said for Chizuma. During her 18 months stay at the bureau, high-profile investigations have been announced and in some cases such mention of investigations has led to arrests, however, so far there is little to show for the hype in investigations and arrests.
Chizuma has even failed to conclude some of the cases her predecessor started.
Some of the cases that have stalled or have no clear direction include the one involving NOCMA, former Minister Newton Kambala, former Presidential Advisor Chris Chaima Banda and AFORD President Enock Chihana. These people were arrested on August 10, 2021 and when the matter was brought to court, Chizuma failed to make any meaningful maneuvers, and seems this case is a still-born.
Then we have the Cementgate saga involving some officers at Malawi Revenue as well as former President Peter Mutharika and his aids Norman Chisale and Peter Mukhito. This is a case started by Matemba, but the new ACB boss is failing to take it off from where it was left, if anything the case is just embodied in several issues, most of them caused by the ACB DG’s incompetence and disorganisation.
There is also the arrest of former Lands Minister Kenzie Msukwa and others. Then we had the investigations and arrests of Principal Secretary Kennedy Nkhoma and former PS Samuel Madula; nobody could claim to know what is happening to this case.
On August 26, 2021 the ACB again arrested former Minister Charles Mchacha, Dr Henrie Njoloma, a former PS at Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development, and the then Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) acting Chief Executive Officer Moses Mwenye after it transpired that LWB irregularly paid for Mchacha’s honeymoon at Ryalls Hotel in Blantyre.
After the arrests, the case has never been heard of.
On November 18, 2021 the Bureau also arrested Commissioner of National Statistical Office Charles Machinjiri and Hastings Dowe, an NSO Human Resource Management Officer and on December 15, 2021 the ACB arrested businessman Abdul Karrim Batatawala and Fletcher Nyirenda, Commissioner for Operations at Immigration Department. These are some of the high-profile cases whose future is not clear and since April 2021 there have also been more investigations announced and arrests made but nothing is heard of on such cases.
The only case which probably Chizuma can claim as a success story is that involving former National Roads Authority CEO Trevor Hiwa who the High Court in Lilongwe on October 12, 2021 found him with a case to answer.
Some observers have argued that the ACB boss was failing to make a mark because she has severe limitations in prosecution. With a track record as a magistrate followed by some corporate work then Ombudsman, she does not have what it takes to stand in court before learned Judges and Magistrates and offer sound arguments or grill suspects to punch holes into their submissions, against equally learned and experienced defense lawyers. In most of her appearances in court, ACB under Chizuma has looked so unsophisticated and unprepared.
ACB’s showing, this far, is an indication that Malawi has a long way to fight corruption if people like Martha Chizuma will continue heading the ACB, unfortunately it seems we have another 18 months of just wishing to have an ACB that could move things.