In aggressively pushing for Martha Chizuma as Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general, President Lazarus Chakwera transmitted that he would, as much as possible try to get the best person for the job.
With her impressive performance as Ombudsman who built her reputation as the woman who protects the underdog, exposes abuse of power in all its forms, Chizuma was by far the public’s choice for the anti-corruption Tsar position.
Unfortunately, that public adoration she earned as the country’s top public protector could be a heavy baggage to carry over to the ACB; the public that catapulted her to the position have high expectations of her—too high if you ask me.
And if I were Martha Chizuma, my first task would be to bring the expectations down by a notch. She really can do with less pressure to deliver too quickly, ending up not breathing at all, broken by the overwhelming weight of failure that is not her making.
The bureau is a different ball game all together from the Office of the Ombudsman where, while she would investigate maladministration, including corruption, her work would usually end at publicising her findings.
Granted, making the Ombudsman’s findings known to the public has helped Malawians to demand more accountability from public officials, but that would be the end of the story.
This is largely the case because the Office of the Ombudsman does not have adjudicative powers or statutory authority to enforce its findings and compel officials, ministries, departments and agencies to comply with its recommendations.
In other words, as Ombudsman, Chizuma didn’t have to arrest anyone, prosecute him or her in court and secure a conviction so that officials pay for their crimes.
At ACB, she will have to investigate and prosecute even as she leads the team to also prevent bribery and lead public education about corruption and its evils.
Malawians will want to see as many people as possible thrown in jail for corruption-related offences. We somehow have the naïve and misguided thinking that the determinations she was making as Ombudsman would somehow be replicated at ACB and land suspected corrupt characters in jail just by Chizuma wagging a finger.
At the ACB, she will have to face a judge and opposing lawyers to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that someone was involved in attempted corruption, extortion, active and passive bribery, bribing a foreign official and abuse of office in line with the Corrupt Practices Act. We both know how hard that is.
Chizuma will have to grapple with the same legal and institutional bottlenecks that limit the ACB operations—from investigations to prosecutions.
She will face the frustrations that come with the bureau’s embarrassing funding poverty born out of a deficit of budgetary independence and the very same uncertainties about the security or lack thereof of the tenure of her office.
If the very people who determine her budget are corrupt, they will ensure that her office gets a bare bones budget—enough to pay her team, but with little to investigate, let alone, prosecute any big fish; serve for a few from the hated previous administration.
She will still have to hungrily wait for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to grant her the favour of allowing the Bureau to prosecute someone she has been investigating.
If the DPP sits on the file, so will she, maybe while seething, but wait she must even if it is be forever.
As Ombudsman, she did not have to deal with clever criminal lawyers and politically connected people who use every trick to find legal and procedural loopholes to avoid prosecution or drug their clients’ cases for decades while the suspects enjoy their potentially ill-gotten wealth.
At ACB that will be her daily menu of frustrations, leaving her to lock up inconsequential folks such as junior traffic police officers who pocketed K4 000 to allow a motorist get away with driving a car that is not certified fit for the road while helplessly watching those who banked billions in bribes partying in flashy cars and mansions.
I guess what I am trying to say is that Martha Chizuma is a good lawyer; a dedicated public servant and a woman who really wants to make a difference.
But if the laws governing the operations and financing of the ACB and its director general remain the same; if the leadership of the government continues to refuse to appreciate that a legally and financially independent ACB is best for the nation, the only difference Chizuma will make will be as the only female white elephant ever to have graced the bureau with its toothless presence.