The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has welcomed the conviction and sentencing of a former junior civil servant to nine years in jail with hard labour for his part in the “cashgate” corruption scandal and urged law enforcing agencies to cast the net wider to catch more culprits in the affair.
Accounts assistant Victor Sithole, 28 is the second official to be found guilty over the “cashgate” financial scandal, the worst to hit Malawi. He was found guilty of stealing more than $66,000 in cash.
CHRR Executive Director Timothy Mtambo said they welcome the “lengthy” sentence handed down by Lilongwe senior magistrate Patrick Chirwa and the plans for the state to forfeit tainted assets as well as recover the laundered money.
Sithole’s arrest in August 2013 kick-started what became known as the “cashgate” affair.
It became public knowledge a month later following the shooting of the finance ministry’s then budget director Paul Mphwiyo.
Meanwhile, CHRR boss has advised the relevant authorities charged with the tasks of investigations and prosecution of cashgate cases to exercise a high degree of professionalism in carrying out such tasks without fear and favour even in the face of unproven “political witch hunting” claims.
“While we have seen a series of arrests which clearly point to some level of progress being made on the matter, there is still a cloud of suspicion that surrounds these cashgate investigations. The manner in which some of these arrests have been conducted raises more questions than answers to whether the public is taken for another ride- that is, being made to believe that something is happening,” observed Mtambo in an interview published by Weekend Nation.
While conceding that there have been claims by some quarters that the cashgate cases are selective targeting mostly the members of the previous regime, the CHRR boss indicated that such claims shouldn’t inhibit the relevant authorities from professionally conducting their investigations and prosecutions in the best interest of the rule of law and the general public.
“While realizing that such claims may contain some level of truth based on our political history which has been characterized by a cat and mouse relationship between the ruling and predecessor party, we at CHRR are of the view that that such notions should not inhibit the relevant authorities or the current government from carrying out independent investigations into Cashgate and in cases where those belonging to the previous regime are found to be on the wrong side of the law they ought to face justice. People should not hide behind ‘political witch-hunting’ claims in order to evade the law.” added Mtambo.
The first person to be convicted in relation to the high-profile case was former Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Tressa Namathanga Senzani, who was sentenced to three years in jail last month.
But the sentence angered many as it was viewed to be lenient.
The rights watchdog boss said he “understands the frustration” by the public over the sentencing of convict Senzani
“The public is justified with the expression of dissatisfaction over the sentences, especially when you consider the harm cashgate has caused on the public,” he said.
According to CHRR boss, Cashgate is a human rights violation “as it impinges on the fundamental freedoms and rights including right to development, right to food, right to life, right to health just to mention a few.”
He added: “Even some have suggested that Cashgate should be considered as a new form of crimes against humanity in view of the deaths registered in public hospitals due to shortage of drugs which the looted money would have catered for.”
Stated Mtambo: “However, at the same time special consideration should be given to the question of whether such sentences imposed by the courts within the law or not. If it’s within the law, then perhaps certain actions should or steps may be considered to be taken in as far as harmonizing the existing laws with the current situation. This may require some sort of legal reforms just to ensure that they speak to the reality of current situations”.
Although former President Joyce Banda was not directly involved in the scandal, analysts say it may contributed to her losing elections earlier this year and prompted foreign donors to pull the plug on much-needed aid.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :