Muckracker on Malawi ‘cashgate’ logjam

“The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort”–Confucius

 The temptation was fever high to ‘muckrake’ what was happening between Area 3 and Area 43 in Lilongwe during the past week. The Paul Mphwiyo-Ralph Kasambara duel is stuff for the movies.

 But they say we may not substantially comment on on-going court cases lest we be caught up in the cobweb of sub judicelaws. Suffice to say, however, I have said it on these pages before that ‘cashgate’ and its attendant trials, with the ‘cast’ involved, will be full of theatrics.

It seems we ain’t seen nothing yet, what with hoods, masks, hot cars, guns and statements like ‘how can I miss those faces?’…Wow! Stuff Steven Spielberg Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino or Roman Polanski will kill for for a box office block-buster.

Mphwiyo: Standing where he was shot
Mphwiyo: Standing where he was shot

But, seriously, let us leave this out of the muckraking cauldron for now lest Dr. Michael Mtambo gets some funny ideas.

That said, I guess we should stay with cashgate, perhaps the worst financial scandal to hit Capital Hill since Malawi became independent half a century ago.

In case some of you were sleeping, cashgate was the systematic way unscrupulous businessmen (women too!) and politicians were conniving with civil servants to fleece government of billions of kwacha in payments for good and services not rendered to government.

In all over K13 billion (or, in real money, over US $30 million) was skimmed from the government payment system, fancily called the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis.)

Joyce Banda partly – if not chiefly – lost the May elections because of cashgate as the obscene looting happened on her watch. She desperately tried to tell Malawians that the fact that this thing was exposed on her watch meant she was fighting graft.

She even invited foreigners, in the name of Baker Tilly – a British audit firm, to audit her government. But she still had to fall on her own sword.

Malawians, therefore, expected the new DPP administration to tackle cashgate the very first day it controlled State House and Capital Hill.

Remember there was that little issue about the British advising the PP government against releasing names of ‘cashgate’ culprits. One would have thought the first thing the in-coming DPP administration would do was to buy full pages in our dailies to advertise those cashgaters.

But we are midway into the third month of a DPP Capital Hill and we are still none the wiser as to whose names are in the Baker Tilly little black book.

What do we have instead? One of the main lawyers defending the cashgate suspects already in court is made Attorney General, meaning he will be the principle advisor of the Director of Public Prosecutions and her hired hands (Kamudoni Nyasulu and Enoch Chibwana.)

If you think I am hallucinating, Kalekeni Kaphale was defending the first cashgate suspect, Victor Sithole, on whose person unexplained millions of cash in kwacha, rands and dollars were found.

Not only that, Kaphale was even defending Teresa Senzani, the Ministry of Tourism lady who built a villa fit for a Hollywood celeb, and the alleged Chief Cashgater himself Oswald Lutepo until he was appointed Attorney General.

Now, now, now, I know Kaphale as a fine lawyer but his involvement with the cashgaters compromises his role as chief legal advisor to government, at least on cashgate issues.

Let me give you an example, when Lutepo was trying to implicate Ralph (or is it Raphael?) Kasambara that the former Justice Minister made him claim Sithole’s millions as his, Kaphale famously asked, “Are you stupid, Mr. Lutepo?”

This statement meant that it was the good lawyer’s considered opinion that Lutepo was lying.

Now, fast-forward to July after Kaphale is made Attorney General and Lutepo comes back to confirm that he was actually indeed lying in his earlier testimony. The same guy who suspected, in his earlier life, that Lutepo must have been lying, now says he cannot help him withdraw that lie. My!

How does Kaphale juggle his dual personality without compromising the Office of the Attorney General?

Kaphale has all the qualifications of being a good Attorney General but the appointing authority should have considered how much he was involved in the cashgate trials before making the appointment. His appointment throws spanners in the works of the whole cashgate investigations and subsequent trials.

I do not know if, as Attorney General, Kaphale can recuse himself from advising the Directorate of Public Prosecutions on the Senzani, Sithole and Lutepo cases while he knows he was defending the same in his earlier life.

Senzani, Sithole and Lutepo must have given him some salient details about their involvement or non-involvement in cashgate in lawyer-client confidentiality. Kaphale is only human; how does he divorce himself from his role as a defender of the cashgaters and an advisor of the prosecutors of the same?

Now you wondered why most of us have always thought we may never get to the bottom of cashgate? Now you know!

  • The article was published in the Sunday Times

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