Local commentators have expressed some caution and reservations over the recent arrest of former Minister of Agriculture Honourable George Chaponda who has been charged with graft for allegedly profiting in a $35million maize import deal from neighbouring Zambia, saying the arrest might be a sign of desperation, panic and “window dressing” on the part of authorities.
Chaponda has been battling against graft allegations following the controversial purchase of 100 000 tons of maize in July 2016.
Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) spokeswoman Egrita Ndala said that Chaponda had been charged with “misuse of public office and possession of foreign currency”.
He was fired in Cabinet by President Peter Mutharika following pressure in February after police uncovered $223 000 in cash stashed in suitcases at the bedroom in his house during a raid.
In his reaction on Chaponda’s long awaited arrest, to one of the local commentators Makhumbo Munthali told Nyasa Times it was too early for Malawians who have longed to see justice on the matter to start celebrating as the arrest must also be viewed “within the political economy context which seem to suggest that it may be one of the signs of desperation and panic on the part of the authorities to counteract the existing international and domestic pressure on them to act on the issue”
Said Munthali: “It’s too early to start heaping praise on ACB let alone the current regime for this arrest. The timing and the manner in which such arrest has been executed seem to raise some suspicion that this might be another window dressing gesture to show that something is being done.
“Otherwise, the arrest was long overdue, and the perennial executive shielding of the suspect was very clear.”
Munthali argued that the arrest may be a sign of desperation and panic on the part of those in authority in reaction to the growing international and domestic pressure to act.
“As you are aware, the international development partners and the delegates present during the previous national anti-corruption conference did not mince words at the authorities by telling point blank that the failure of ACB to arrest Chaponda and Mutharika’s continued shielding of Chaponda from investigation and prosecution had the potential to erode the few gains Malawi had registered in the fight against corruption over the years,” he said.
“Nevertheless, time will tell as to whether this arrest was based on a strong collective conviction to ensure that justice prevails on the matter or a mere political attempt to fool Malawians and the donors that something was being done like we have seen in other Cashgate and Muluzi’s case,” said Munthali, who is also the National Secretary of the Ethics, Peace and Justice Commission of Evangelical Association of Malawi.
A renowned legal scholar from University of Malawi Chancellor College Bright Theu took time to write on social media to describe Chaponda’s arrest as charade.
“This Chaponda arrest could well be a charade, given the guys at the helm of things at the moment. Especially when a purpoted government website is fronting the story like a trophy,” Theu posted on Facebook.
“I am unable to trust these guys. You go some trust-earning to do folks,ACB, DPP and government generally” wrote Theu.
Malawi Geneva-based writer-cum analyst Onjezan iKenani wrote: “Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Bureau has arrested former Agriculture Minister Dr. George Chaponda. As Amos 5:24 says, let justice roll down like waters. However, I wish all suspected criminals were arrested in the manner the Bureau has arrested Dr. Chaponda. He was not taken to a police cell. He will go straight to court this morning, where he will be granted bail. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Human rights activist Charles Kajoloweka who has been pushing for justice in the Mizegate scandal said Chaponda’s arrest has come too late.
“It’s a progressive action but it is coming a little late especially when you consider that these [commission of] inquiry reports were released some six months ago,” he said in quotes reported by Voice of America.
Kajoloweka argued that the delay confirms that Chaponda, a vice president of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, had continued to enjoy protection “under the current political leadership.”
In a statement, however, ACB ruled out any political interference in the matter, saying “The process of investigations is complicated and needs to be conducted with due process and detailed care.”
Pressure from parliamentarians led Mutharika in January to order an inquiry into the deal, which was brokered by the state-owned grain trader ADMARC.
Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :