Malawi’s Former Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda has been shielded from trial according to the civil society organisations who have called on the Zomba Magistrate Court ruling last Friday that he had no case to answer in corruption-related charges regarding the 2017 maize procurement deal from Zambia as “utter miscarriage of justice.”
Chief resident magistrate (CRM) Paul Chiotcha acquitted Chaponda, who is also Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice president for the South, after trashing the State’s evidence in its totality on three charges which included giving false information to Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB), influencing a public officer to misuse his position and possession of foreign currency.
President Peter Mutharika in January ordered an investigation into a $34.5 million government maize order, after a Zambian opposition leader Saviour Chishimba said he had seen documents showing Malawi had been charged $345 per ton for 100 000 tonnes of Zambian white maize worth $215 a ton.
In a statement made available to Nyasa Times, the CSOs—Youth and Society (YAS), Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR)—say two independent and seperate inquires; one set by the legislature and another by the President, separately presented reports that unanimously implicated Chaponda of wrongdoing but ACB tactically presented a weaker case.
The groups say Chaponda case where he was found with case stacked in suitcases at home was similar to that of a former junior civil servant who was sentenced to nine years in jail with hard labour for his part in the “cashgate” corruption scandal.
They refereed his case to Victor Sithole who was found with 122 million Malawi kwacha and $22, 000.
The CSOs also noted on contradictions and an apparent dishonesty in how the money was acquired.
“Apart from such possible illicit acquisition of the money, the status quo of being found with custody of such huge amounts of foreign currency constituted clear financial crimes for which one Victor Sithole is successfully committed to prison after procedural judicial trial. Despite all the clear evidence of criminal underhand dealings as pointed out by the incoherent submissions from the accused and other facts that spoke for themselves, such the illegal possession of Forex, Dr. Chaponda has been found that he has no case to answer. This essentially means that he has been shielded from trial,” reads the statement.
Sithole, who was government’s Accounts assistant, the second official to be found guilty over Cashgate was found guilty of stealing more than $66,000 in cash.
His arrest in August 2013 after cash was found in his car boot kick-started what became known as the “cashgate” affair – the worst financial scandal in the country’s history.
It became public knowledge a month later following the shooting of the finance ministry’s then budget director Paul Mphwiyo.
The CSOs said Chaponda case is similar to that of Sithole after ACB investigators confiscated K124 million, $57 500, 2 720 Indian rupee, 518 Ethiopian birr, 610 Pula, 1 200 meticais, 1 250 Kenya shillings, 80 Hong Kong dollars, 1 010 Japanese yen, 22 370 South African rands, 55 euros, 29 Zambian kwacha and 100 Namibian dollar.
YAS is led by Charles Kajoloweka, CHRR by Timothy Mtambo and while Cedep is led by Gift Trapence.
The CSOs have also been surprised that the State has quickly expressed that it will not appeal the Magistrate’s decision which the general public clearly abhor.
Reads the statement further: “Indeed the Chaponda case presents us with a a strong argument of a society of justice to the rich and powerful. Regrettable!!”
It continued: “Thus, while we uphold the independence of judiciary and accountability – enforcement institutions such as the ACB, this ruling is but a huge joke in the fight against serious and organised corruption and accountability struggle in general. It is utter miscarriage of justice. At its best it is an incentive to corruption. With this ruling, we see no reason why Dr. Chaponda or his like-minded politicians would be restrained from doing the same or even more. With currently disturbing levels of corruption, accountability institutions should be last in rewarding corruption.”
The CSOs ruling that Chaponda has no case to answer further exposes the institutional incapacity of accountability institutions in the fight against organised corruption in Malawi.
“It is simply unimaginable how the ACB ignored all the red flags that were raised by then and only got courage when the State President fired Dr. Chaponda – and then later grow cold feet when the firing proved to be cosmetic. It is simply confusing that despite the glaring facts that implicates the accused, the ACB fails to do a successful job and quickly indicates that it will not contest the ruling by way of an appeal,” reads the statement.
The CSOs have since called upon the ACB to drop its “declaration of defeat” and genuinely side with the public interest by re-embarking on the matter until real justice should be obtained.
“The ACB should contest this court outcome and take further necessary steps in seeking recourse on this accountability matter of national importance. We ask the ACB to appeal the decision of the lower court.”
ACB boss Reyneck Matemba has denied that they presented a weaker case deliberately.
Matemba called CSOs criticism as “an insult”, saying they should appreciate what the bureau is doing and stop putting unnecessary pressure on them so that they work without interference from any quarter.
He said: “What they [CSOs] are saying is nonsense and rubbish.”
Thr CSOs say they will not shrink from their duty to monitor the Chaponda corruption case and further demand accountability on the same.
They further call upon all Malawians to rise to the occasion and begin to demand accountability from state accountability institutions including Judiciary and ACB, saying Malawi can hardly continue watching “a rotten justice system that only favours the rich and condemns the poor.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :