In a pure act of disrespect to public office and the nation, Martha Chizuma –the now-out-of-fashion Anti-Corruption Bureau Director, has once again leaked confidential government documents from the Office of the Attorney General, much to the bewilderment of both the legal fraternity and Malawians at large.
It has not even been three months since Chizuma’s penchant for leaking information was exposed through the release of a recording in which she was heard illegally discussing official matters protected by her Oath of Office, including slanderous aspersions she cast against judges, churches and civil society organizations, yet she is at it again. It would appear that the lessons that President Lazarus Chakwera admonished her to learn regarding professionalism when he spared her the sack that professional bodies like the Malawi Law Society had recommended have not been learned.
She has again betrayed the trust of her office and workmates by allowing a document from the Attorney General’s office to leak from her office. It all started when Chizuma wrote Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda on February 9 this year to seek legal advice on payments related to one of the companies that were debarred by the Attorney General.
One of the companies Attorney General debarred was Malachite FZE for being involved in shady procurement deals. The opinion Martha was seeking was to find out whether the company should be paid for works and services rendered to Government prior to being debarred. How the ACB Director, being a qualified lawyer, was ignorant of what the law says about payment for services already rendered by a company before its debarment, or indeed how she had missed the Attorney General’s public announcement about the same, is anyone’s guess. But the Attorney General, being vastly more competent in matters of law than she is and being more patient with her incompetence in this regard than is justified, wrote her back on February 25, educating her about what the Public Procurement Disposal of Assets Act (2017) says about what payments a debarred company should receive and not received from the State.
The Act, in Section 46 (c), states that ‘A procuring and disposing entity may terminate a procurement contract for convenience if it is determined to be in the public interest, and subject to payment for work satisfactorily completed, or services satisfactorily performed before the effective date of termination and for reimbursable expenses incurred, or for any goods specially manufactured under the procurement contract, and reasonable termination costs, but excluding lost profit.”
One would think that the ACB Director would be grateful to the Attorney General for covering up her ignorance of the very laws she is employed to enforce. But the thanks the Attorney General got was the leakage of his confidential counsel to her not long after she stamped the document with her official seal to acknowledge receipt. The ACB Director proceeded to circulate the document to her friends, social media sympathizers, and online publications who could twist the Attorney General’s legally sound reading of procurement laws to seem like an act of lawlessness, much to the shock and amazement of the legal fraternity.
If she was hoping that the leakage of the document would embarrass the Attorney General, whose office she seems bent on destroying, she has failed. All she has succeeded in doing is exposing her own incompetence. In fact, several prominent lawyers in the country have already backed the Attorney General’s strict application of the law without regard to the sentimentality and sensationalism the ACB Director stirs in the media. As a case in point, renowned lawyer, Christopher Chiphwanya, stated that there is nothing amiss with what Nyirenda has done.
“The law the Attorney General invoked for terminating the contracts specifically states that the contractors will be paid for work done or services performed. The termination letters also state this. There is nothing sinister about making such lawful payments, hence the Attorney General is enjoined to assent to them. Eyebrows can only rise if (Zuneith) Sattar has been paid more than what the law stipulates,” argues Chiphwanya.
It has become difficult to find anyone in the legal fraternity who believes Martha Chizuma has the maturity and ability to carry the heavy mantle of leading the ACB, and harder still to find any legal professional who doesn’t believe she has lost the credibility to be an effective champion of the fight against graft.