The Vice-President Saulos Chilima was stripped of his responsibilities. The Chief of Staff Prince Kapondamgaga was suspended from his State House post.
President Lazarus Chakwera made the decisions on the duo based on an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) report that indicated that the two were part of the 13 public officials who the graft-busting body said it had extensively investigated on corruption suspicions relating to businessperson Zunneth Sattar’s contracts with the Malawi Government.
But nearly two months since the President withheld delegated duties from Chilima and interdicted Kapondamgaga, the duo has neither been questioned nor charged.
Based on the same report, Chakwera also suspended then chairperson of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) John-Suzi Banda and fired former Police Inspector General George Kainja.
After the report, the ACB has so far arrested Kainja, director of legal services in the Malawi Police Service Mwabi Kalua, Suzi-Banda and Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Lands Reyneck Matemba, who is also former ACB chief. Prosecution has not started.
There are now questions on whether the ACB rushed the report and and if the President acted hastily on those mentioned in the report he said he had direct control over.
Asked why ACB has not moved on Chilima and Kapondamgaga almost two months after their public naming, ACB principal public relations officer Egrita Ndala, in an earlier interview, said the two were under investigation after which a decision would be made.
She said: “You are aware that on 24th June 2022 the bureau arrested former Inspector General of Police Dr. George Kainja and Mwabi Kaluba, the legal officer. The prosecution of these matters are awaiting consent from the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions]. The other people you have mentioned are indeed some of the people that we are investigating.”
While noting that the bureau had said 13 people were extensively investigated, the President admitted that the report did not provide details of the actual wrongdoing. In fact, Chakwera dubbed the bureau report “substandard”.
Asked if the President rushed to suspend Chilima and Kapondamgaga from their responsibilities, given that the ACB does not seem ready to act, presidential press secretary Anthony Kasunda, in an interview yesterday, stressed that the President’s action was based on the ACB report.
He said: “President Chakwera clearly said that ACB’s independent report to him stated that the officers in question were not merely under the bureau’s investigation, but that the investigation into their conduct was extensive enough and its findings clear enough for the bureau to conclude that the officers were culpable.
“It is, therefore, because the bureau said the officers were not merely under investigation as the case was with others whose culpability the bureau had not yet established that the President made the decisions he did regarding those whose culpability the bureau said it had established.”
Kasunda added that only the bureau is in a position to explain the nature of culpability.
“As it is, both the President and Malawians await the bureau to make known the conclusive findings it said it already had in its possession back in June,” he said.
Kasunda said while the President, like other Malawians, would want swift action on the matter, there is nothing that can be done in the interest of protecting the independence of the bureau.
A legal expert, who is also a former official in the Ministry of Justice, speaking on condition of anonymity, hinted that while the ACB cannot be pushed to take swift action on these particular cases, it is only good practice that those accused are given an opportunity to defend themselves in court as soon as possible.
The expert said based on the report presented to the President, it is justified to question why there has been no action.
“We all heard it that these were among those extensively investigated and, therefore, we hoped they would be invited for questioning as soon as possible.
The ACB is investigating Sattar for corruption, fraud and money laundering related to 16 contracts.
According to the ACB’s reports, 52 current and former public officials allegedly received money from Sattar between 2017 and 2021.
The ACB’s probe found that among the 84 individuals, who allegedly received money from Sattar, 13 people “conducted themselves corruptly in dealing with the businessman”.