CounterJab: Malawi condones graft; weak Cashgate sentence par for the course

There have been several arrests of prominent individuals over the theft of millions of dollars from the Malawi Treasury in 2013. Among those taken into custody is the country’s former budget director Paul Mphwiyo who has since been charged with theft and money laundering. Since last year, at least 70 people have been arrested in connection with the biggest financial scandal on record in Malawi.

Senzani: Convicted and sentenced to prison for money laundering and theft

Senzani: Convicted and sentenced to prison for money laundering and theft

Senzani's cashgate  sprawling mansion

Senzani’s cashgate sprawling mansion

The shooting of Mphwiyo last year as he drove into his residence in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, exposed the scandal dubbed Cashgate. A forensic inspection of government books by a United Kingdom auditing firm, paid for by Malawi’s main bilateral aid giver Britain, revealed that the government doled out $30 million — about 1 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product of Malawi whose development budget is supported by donors – to individuals and entities for services they did not provide.

When Mphwiyo was shot, the office of President Joyce Banda elucidated that it was a “planned and targeted attack aimed at silencing him.” According to family and friends, Mphwiyo had told them that he had been receiving death threats because he had closed loopholes used to siphon funds from the Treasury.

But Mphwiyo, a 37-year-old public servant who owns a mansion in an exclusive neighborhood, has not been without controversy himself. Questions about his lavish lifestyle have been at the center of his credibility. In fact, CounterJab was floored by Mphwiyo’s arrogance when he appeared before a Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) hearing to shed more light on what he knew of the systematic theft of public money. Here was a guy who thought it was out of jealousy and envy for anyone to raise questions about his fancy way of living. But how many 37-year-old public employees can afford his opulent way of life?

As the gun-shot survivor demolished PAC, its dumbfounded members sat and watched. When he was finished, Mphwiyo brushed off his shoulders and left.

It remains to be seen whether the case against Mphwiyo and other Cashgate suspects will be prosecuted successfully. Even after getting convictions, you still would be setting yourself up for disappointment to expect punishment that would deter others from committing similar crimes. And this, unfortunately, is not an exaggeration.

A quick look at one Cashgate case: Malawi has so far dispensed justice in only one case but the performance of the prosecution in trying former Principal Secretary of Tourism Treza Senzani, who admitted to stealing $150,000 from the government, has not inspired CounterJab.

Senzani faced five years in jail but got three yet she has the gall to think the sentence was too harsh and intends to appeal the ruling. It is of course her right to do so but it provides us a window into the kind of justice system that exists in Malawi.

During sentencing, Judge Ivy Kamanga admonished the prosecution: “With respect to the State Prosecutorial discretion, they are well conversant with simple theft and not by the public servant. They gave the impression they never intended to punish her with a severe punishment when a serious charge was available.”

Wow that must have hurt!

The prosecution dropped the ball on this one big time but that does not let Kamanga completely off the hook. While the prosecution tied her hands, Malawi has many cases where those who committed less serious offences prayed to the court for mercy in vain. They were given harsh sentences when compared to what Kamanga gave Senzani.

In the past, yours truly has discussed the need to try cases like these by jury and not judge.

In a jury trial, a suspect must prove his or her innocence to a jury made up members of the community. The jury decides a case based on how persuasive each side presented its case which is a minus to opponents of the jury system since it appears more like emotions influencing the jury’s final decision. Opponents want a trial by judge who acts as a fact finder and decider on matters of law and procedure.

But the other advantage of the jury system is that the suspect must convince many and not just one, a judge, who could be easily manipulated to decide a case in a certain way. When delivering justice, what people want is a system free of partiality; a system that will protect those who need protection the most.

It is not as though Malawians are oblivious to the damage Cashgate has caused. Malawi is reeling from donors’ suspension of $150 million in aid to the country. The poor, who largely depend on public services such as health, are suffering as a result. But who will standup for them when the justice system bends backwards to accommodate those causing pain?

Currently, our justice system favours the haves who can screw the have-nots with impunity knowing they can get away with it. The system is soft on white collar crime yet tough on petty crime. Regular people should realize that the system is rigged against them and must rise up. Without a strong groundswell of condemnation of this system, Malawians are greatly mistaken if they think they will wake up one day and find their government treating white collar crime seriously.

  • The author isformer founding editor of Maravi Post who is now a columnist on Nyasa Times under ‘Countejab’
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22 thoughts on “CounterJab: Malawi condones graft; weak Cashgate sentence par for the course”

  1. please our judges people around the globe are watching you and all of us. imagine our leaders have been branded kleptomanics. save our face from your corruptive and collussive tendences. may be we should use the stone and petrol on these saboteur theiving idiots the mphwiyos, senzani, makande and many others we can do it because they have betrayed us

  2. Think about others b4 u pull out millions.

  3. Kane says:

    Senzani ndi mphwiyo mwaiphula ife tikumwalila kuchipatala mankhwala kulibe zisilu inu

  4. honey says:

    ndi abusiness amvetsetseni maiwa

  5. Victor Phiri says:

    Bingu stole $500 and yet no one seems be bothered. Bingu is being treated as hero by Peter Mutharika . Where are we heading to countrymen?

  6. Kongo Masino says:

    Our stupidity is giving big posts to young people.See how careless they are with government resources.Use 60 yrs onwards.

  7. Nalikongwiro says:

    Patrick Mwanza from North. Ivy Kamanga from north, Ralph Kasambara from north. cashgate involves mostly the northerners, thats why Ivy Kamanga gave ammlowe Triza Senzani less jail years so that Kasambara gets nothing. Please think deeper why most tumbukas are lawyers. Simple. To favour all tumbukas.

  8. BUNNY MILAZI says:

    Do not cease fire. Keep telling it as it is.

  9. Ma says:

    Walira bwanawe sibasi??? Anything more? ????

  10. Livulezi river says:

    I agree with you Patrick!! If the govt was really serious, it would seize this hotel like mansion and use it as either its offices or a lodge!!! Not that soft & silly sentence given to this lady. It’s not that am jealous of this lady, but rather its the way and means under which Treza amassed her fortunes. Ma JAJI enawa ndi ” mbola” for they leave a lot to be desired!!!!!

  11. johnM says:

    I do not agree. Jury cases are expensive and the judiciary which is already slow, would become even slower and cases would be further delayed. If you carefully examine the sentence by Justice Kamanga, I agree with her judgement because above all else, the accused pleaded guilty. Even in a case which has a jury, the sentencing is by the Judge thus I do not see the advantage of having a jury in the case of Senzani

  12. Rabin Andrews says:

    Powerful insights. This article resonates with what the British are saying on aid to Malawi. I support our government not resuming aid until there is a full account of what happened to the money. This attitude of cuddling people who plunder public resources must stop.

  13. petrol kali says:

    Anthu olemela zawo zimayenda nthawi zonse chomwe achifuna amachipeza sistaer wa anna kachikho

  14. Nambuma Girl says:

    Cashgate House

  15. Nambuma Girl says:

    Pepani Achimwene munakwatira “MBAVA”

  16. Vyachalo says:

    osauka afela mndende.no bail

  17. kokoliko says:

    You mean that house belongs to a civil servant who was getting less than 200,000? Oh my God!!!! I cry for my beloved Malawi!!! God is the best judge. So why was she given ONLY 3 years and yet someone who stole a goat is serving 7 years? Mob justice basi anzanga pamenepa, lets burn these houses tifanane.

  18. unfortunate says:

    I was going to be a happy man to see some of malawians owning fancy properties like this through hard working.

  19. Dick says:

    Ku Malawi ndo kosauka basi anthu akukuthandizani mukukabanso!! Paul ali ndi ndalama zoti akhoza kupanga bribe the whole ACB and Judiciary!! Let us wait and see

  20. ADMITTED PATIENTS AT KAMUZU CENTRAL. says:

    NEXT INFORM THIS BRITISH AUDIT TEAM TO GO TO THESE MINISTRIES, LOT OF CASH IS BEING ABUSED, PEOPLE SPLASHES MONEY LIKE MPHWIYO HIMSELF A ! NO!
    1- ROAD TRAFFIC WHERE WE MOTORIST GO FOR CWFs, DRIVING LICENCES ETC.
    2- MALAWI ROAD AUTHORITY(MRA)
    3- NATIONAL ROADS AUTHORITY
    THE SURPRISING PART IS ONE GETS EMPLOYMENT THERE TWO DAYS HE IS DRIVING
    A FORTUNER, HE IS RENTING A HOUSE AT AREA 47.
    IF AM LYING GO AND AUDIT THERE IF BILLIONS OF AMOUNTS WONT BE FOUND. BELIEVE ME IT WILL BE BEYOND CASHGATE.
    WE WANT TO BE ACCOUNTABLE TO ANY COIN NOW. OUR COUNTRIES ARE AHEAD OF US, DONT WE ADMIRE.
    OR WE HAVE EXTERNAL or NATIONAL AUDITORS. IF YOU DONT GO THERE.
    IF YOU WONT BE AT THESE OFFICES BY NOVEMBER END 2014 WE WILL STORM AT YOUR OFFICES AND BE JOINED BY MANY CONCERNED MALAWIANS FOR DEMOS OR ANY STUPID ACTION.

  21. Chindazi says:

    Guys…. these are thieves like the ones who steal in our houses……. if the courts does not rule properly….. lets do it our on way……

    The following should watch out of me…. Mphwiyo,,,, Pika…… Kalonga…. The Savalas….. Kasambara…… and all those who are linked to cashgate……

    NDIKUOTCHANI NDEKHA NDI MOTO WAMA TAYALA…… I know where you leave and where you drink… where you fuck bitches from…….

  22. bikoko says:

    Pur nyakwawa usiwausiwa over cash gate trials muona awaminisa ameneo.

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