Opinion By Hudson Mphande
“Strangely, unlike its detailing of the IG’s apparent compromised conduct, the Bureau’s report contains no information or description of any kind regarding what exactly the Chief of Staff for State Residences and the Board Chairperson of the PPDA did in relation to the five contracts the Bureau has been investigating.”-President Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, Tuesday June 21, 2022 Kamuzu Palace, Lilongwe.
Disclaimer: As Hudson Mphande, I have never met or come closer to the Chief of Staff Prince Kapondamgaga or any of those mentioned (so far) in the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) court filings on businessman Zunneth Sattar. Again, I am not a lawyer or anything closer to that, I am just a concerned individual with the interest of the nation as my utmost driving force. Lastly, I have not been privileged to read both the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ABC) report submitted to President Chakwera and the NCA court documents; just like a majority of Malawians my opinion here is solely based on the President’s address of Tuesday June 21, 2022 and the discussions that have followed on social media as well as in mainstream media outlets.
Listening to President Chakwera during the press conference, when he announced the withholding of delegated duties to his vice, the firing of the Police Inspector General, and the suspension of his Chief of Staff, one could tell that the President was at pains to take the path which he did. This pain was clear when, apart from explaining concern on lack of detailed description of the corrupt activities involving some of those mentioned, the President also lamented that, considering the seriousness of the allegations, the ACB report lacked the seriousness, in terms of standards, that it deserved.
President Chakwera bemoaned as follows: “I must say that while I remain confident that the Bureau is critical to this fight, because of the glaring information gaps in its report, including the absence of any information about what the Bureau’s plan of action is, I consider the report to be an example of substandard work. And on a matter as serious and sensitive as this, Malawians deserve better.”
Some of us, did not agree with the President. Questions were asked why, if the report did not live up to his expectation, he rushed into such executive decisions.
Chakwera, as a President, he had two options: wait until the ACB does a thorough job, or execute his executive powers and “punish” those “errant” individuals.
President Chakwera chose to act. For some of us, we saw the President genuinely concerned with what the report revealed. He was heartbroken that those even closer to him were said to be among those going to bed with the devil. His decision to act on the mentioned individuals could have been based on the trust that the ACB will either quickly move in to bring an addendum to the report, furnish the President with additional information to close the gaps and deficiencies or act quickly to commence required processes-interrogations, arrests, charges and everything-that will lay bare the details of how exactly these people got into an entanglement with Sattar.
This week marks almost a month since the ACB submitted the report to the President and July 21 marks exactly a month since the President made his executive decisions on those mentioned. Surprisingly, no further word has been heard from the ACB. No action has been taken against those mentioned in the report. So far, what we have heard from the ACB Director General is the same old and tired song; that is how complex corruption investigation are, lack of human resource capacity or the inadequate funding that the Bureau gets.
Honestly, at this point I would want to agree with the former Vice President Khumbo Hastings Kachali who writing on his Facebook page expressed misgivings on how the ACB is conducting itself.
On Saturday, Kachali wrote: “These news media snippets, most likely leaked by the ACB itself to give an impression that they are doing something on the Zuneth Sattar case, count for nothing! The basic truth that Madam DG Martha Chizuma should know is that we are not impressed with ACB’s performance. Malawian citizens want to see tangible actions taken. Effect arrests. Haul all the suspected criminals before courts. Secure convictions. That is all.”
A few days ago, President Chakwera announced that funds have been released to the ACB. And Kachali said: “President Lazarus Chakwera has answered to the lame excuse propagated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General Martha Chizuma in the media recently. She stated that lack of funding was one of the hurdles ACB was facing in its operations. The President has since released funds to the ACB. The dedicated funds are strictly for the Zuneth Sattar issue and other high level corruption cases. Malawians are waiting impatiently to see what the ACB will do with the funds.”
Yes, Malawians are “patiently waiting” but a critical question that has to be answered: Is the ACB concerned that there are some people mentioned in the report whose reputation as well as livelihood hang in the balance waiting for its action?
As pointed out, the President acted on the ACB report based on trust that the Bureau will deal with the issues with the required speed and that Malawians will soon know all the truth behind those mentioned names. Apparently, Martha Chizuma and his team has betrayed the President’s trust All we have to show for more than a month, is still hot air, childish tantrums and the same lyrics of old. If the ACB was able to mention people by their names, it would be assumed that most of the donkey work in the investigation was done and it would not require any special funding to interrogate and arrest people. That is why Kachali has labelled the “lack of funding song” as lame.
Now the irony of the matter; it seems it is Prince Kapondamgaga, the State House Chief of Staff who is the most victimised in all this ACB shenanigans.
It is said there are 84 individuals on the ACB/NCA list. Fifty-three of these individuals are public officers and former public officers. The Bureau explained that out of the 84 individuals, 31 are from the private sector, the media, civil society, and the legal fraternity.
Now, out of the 84, constitutionally the President has executive powers on four and he directly dealt with three-the Vice President, the Police IG, and his Chief of Staff and made a recommendation to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to deal with the fourth one, John Suzi Banda, who was the chairperson of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Directorate.
“The description of how the IG seems compromised is clear in the report, and so I have decided to remove him from office on that basis,” said the President when announcing the firing of the IG.
On the Vice President, he said just like in the case of Kapomdamgaga and Suzi Banda, the report contains no information or description of any kind regarding what exactly the three did.
The Vice President yes has delegated duties withheld, but as per the Constitutional requirements, he is still enjoying full benefits as the second citizen of the country, state security and everything that goes with his office. For Suzi Banda, before the OPC acted on him, he resigned. It is not known whether by now the OPC would have acted on him and what action would have been taken. It has to be mentioned, though, that being chairperson it is not a full time job, Suzi Banda still has his job wherever.
Now, out of the three, the only one still facing the wrath of the report is Prince Kapondamgaga. The man is still on a suspension whose duration is dependent on how the ACB moves and conduct itself, and as someone on an indefinite suspension, he might not be enjoying some of the benefits of his office.
For all well thinking Malawians, I believe as things are moving it would be fair and human enough for Martha Chizuma to come in the open, declare that so far there is nothing tangible on Mr Kapondamgaga, apologise both to the President and his Chief of Staff with probably an assurance to Malawians that when she and her team have enough grounds and are organised enough, they will revive the case.
To understand the level of awkwardness that the ACB has thrown the President into; Prince Kapondamgaga, the only remaining “real” victim of the Sattar report, as Chakwera’s Chief of Staff is a man who the President had all the utmost trust to be put in that position. But to do what is supposed to be done to clear this awkwardness, needs someone with both a human heart, steadfastness and “real” brains, which I am sorry, this far its lacking in Martha Chizuma.