The Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) – an umbrella mother body of 122 Church denominations and Christian organizations- has said Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)’s kid gloves handling of the maize scam corruption which implicated fired Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda has eroded the few gains registered in the fight against corruption over the recent years.
In a statement released in Lilongwe through its social governance arm called the Ethics, Peace, and Justice Commission (EPJC) and shared with Nyasa Times, EAM feels the way the issue of Chaponda has been handled by the President and the graft fighting body have to a greater extent contributed to eroding the few gains so far registered in the fight against corruption.
“We observe that Malawi’s President Mutharika’s handling of the maize scam saga where he was apparently seen untiringly shielding maize scam implicated Hon. George Chaponda has to a greater extent eroded some of the few gains registered in the fight against corruption, and in the process resurrecting the popular view that there is no political will to fight corruption in Malawi,” reads the statement co-signed by EPJC National Chairperson Rev. Dr. Zacc Kawalala and EPJC National Secretary Makhumbo Munthali.
The religious grouping pointed out that despite the conventional wisdom for the President to fire Chaponda pending conclusion of the investigations coupled by a High Court order in indirectly compelling him to act, President Mutharika remained steadfast in publicly defending Chaponda’s involvement in the maize scam.
“Mutharika’s failure to act coupled by Chaponda’s, a senior and powerful official in the ruling party and cabinet, failure to resign and comply with the Court’s order sent the signal that there were sacred cows that were immune to investigations and above the law in as far as the fight against corruption is concerned,” reads part of the statement.
The statement adds that even when circumstances [the discovery of foreign currencies in Chaponda’s house by ACB officials] forced the President to finally relieve Chaponda of his duties as a minister, it was apparent that the decision was made with reservations.
“Contrary, to the practice where once a cabinet Minister has been fired by the President his or her replacement is immediately announced in the same statement or press release Chaponda’s case was different. It was clear that the President was not going to fill the vacuum just to shield Chaponda’s further but was forced to appoint a deputy minister as a compromise after receiving enormous pressure from CSOs to replace Chaponda.
“While a key Ministry of Agriculture now has a deputy Minister and the President keeping the full Minister of Agriculture to himself, the failure for the President to appoint a separate full time agriculture Minister raises suspicion that the President might be playing games with the public by reserving the position or reserving a space in Cabinet for Chaponda. All this coupled by the failure of ACB to swiftly act on Chaponda may in the short or long term give credence to this suspicion, and in the process eroding the people trust in the current regime’s fight against corruption.” reads part of the statement.
According to EAM, the failure for ACB to arrest Chaponda after finding huge sums of foreign currencies in his house during their “raid” has not helped matters either but rather reinforce the existing assertion that ACB is “executive driven”.
“We note that ACB as mandated by the Corrupt Practices Act to perform the functions of corruption prevention and law enforcement has failed to meet its strategic goal – as enshrined in ACB 2012-2017 Strategic Plan- of increased public confidence in the body’s fight against corruption as there is still growing public perception that ACB is compromised and exists to serve the interests of those in the ruling elite. This is grounded partly in illustrations of precedence where some ACB directors were fired due to alleged failure to bow down to executive political orders,’” reads the statement signed.
However, responding to the question of the independence of ACB and the failure to arrest Chaponda, ACB Deputy Director Reyneck Matemba told the delegates at the National anti-corruption conference held recently at Bingu Conference that officer from the bureau failed to arrest Chaponda because of the immunity he was enjoying while Parliament is in session and added that when they were ready to arrest him after Parliamentary sitting ACB had no resources to effect such a decision.
But renowned socio-economic commentator and ECAMA President Henry Kachaje while holding the floor during the conference questioned the rationale of ACB deputy director’s statement that ACB had no resources to arrest Chaponda at the second attempt wondering where such resources had gone to considering the fact that they were initially allocated to execute such purpose.
Reacting to the question posed by Makhumbo Munthali of EAM during the conference as to whether ACB was independent or not the ACB director Lukas Kondowe cleverly avoided the issue by stating that ACB was operationally independent.
“I don’t know what you mean by independence. But as far as we are concerned financially we are not independent as we depend from government. Operationally we are independent because we are able to carry out our activities,” said Kondowe.
But notwithstanding the highlighted weaknesses against ACB, EAM has applauded ACB for such discovery of large sums of foreign currency at Chaponda’s house describing the move as historic.
Meanwhile, EAM has applauded the Civil Society organisations, the media, PAC, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the inquiry to the maize scam, and President Mutharika’s initiated Commission of Inquiry for the remarkable role they played in ensuring that sanity prevailed in the maize scam saga.
“We applaud the efforts by Civil Society organisations and the media in the fight against corruption. In particular, the bold steps demonstrated by some Civil Society Organisations led by Youth and Society Charles Kajoloweka earlier this year to obtain a Court injunction restraining the-then Minister of Agriculture Hon. George Chaponda from performing his duties until he was cleared in the infamous corruption related maize scam must be encouraged and commended.
“ The unwavering efforts by Public Affairs Committee (PAC) in demanding government to act on corruption related recommendations coming from their all-inclusive stakeholders meetings cannot go without mention. All these are positive developments we can build on as a country in addressing corruption,” reads the statement
The body also commend the role played by Parliament through its joint parliamentary committee on inquiry to the maize scam for providing the much needed oversight role of the executive arm of government to check on excess of abuse of power.
“The role played by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on inquiry to the maize scam and that of President Mutharika’s instituted Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Anastasia Msosa will go into the history of Malawi as some landmark developments in the fight against corruption.”
EAM’s statement comes at a time when Malawi is reviewing its fight against corruption a process that culminated to a national anti-corruption conference held at Bingu International Conference.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :