Political parties and commentators have differed on how lawmakers should deal with suggestions from some quarters that Vice-President Saulosi Chilima should be impeached after an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) report linked him to alleged corrupt dealings with UK-based businessperson Zunneth Sattar.
While some suggest that Parliament should commence impeachment proceedings against the Vice-President after President Lazarus Chakwera withheld delegated duties from him, others argue it is premature to take that route now before ACB completes investigations on the matter.
Other party representatives have adopted a wait-and-see stance, saying how exactly the issue will pan out in Parliament will depend on how the Speaker of the National Assembly, Catherine Gotani-Hara, who also received the report from ACB, will handle it.
In a national address on Tuesday this week, Chakwera said for being linked to alleged corruption with Sattar, he has decided to withhold delegated duties to the Vice-President.
In his address, Chakwera announced that he has fired former Police Inspector General (IG) George Kainja and suspended State Residences chief of staff Prince Kapondamgaga as well as Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets (PPDA) board chairperson John Suzi-Banda for their involvement in the Sattar alleged corrupt dealings. [an1]
According to the ACB report, all the four and others talked to Sattar on the phone. But while the former IG, Kapondamgaga and Suzi-Banda are said to have received kickbacks to influence a beef ration deal, what Chilima and Sattar discussed is not known.
The Malawi Constitution does not mandate the President to suspend or fire the Vice-President, hence Chakwera’s decision to withhold delegated duties from the Vice-President.
The President said: “The best I can do for now, which is what I have done is to withhold from his office delegated duties while waiting for the bureau to substantiate its allegations against him and to make known its course of action in relation to such.”
Legal scholar Danwood Chirwa advocated for impeachment against the Veep, saying it is the most plausible process under the circumstances because he said criminal processes take long in the country and presidents and vice-presidents don’t get to be prosecuted to the end.
In an interview on Thursday, Chirwa a professor of law at the University of Cape Town in South Africa said: “Impeachment is a political and legal process. The legal process allows for the presentation of evidence by the parliamentary prosecutor and challenge of that evidence by the accused public office holder,
“The political process proceeds from consideration of the evidence presented and which has withstood scrutiny.”
But Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa, in an interview this week, observed that the office of Speaker of the National Assembly is key to how the matter may play out as currently it is not known whether or not the report will be tabled in the august House.
Said Nankhumwa: “It is at the discretion of the Right Honourable Speaker as to how she is going to dispose of the report she has received. I shall not comment further on the matter up until the Speaker decides.”
United Democratic Front (UDF) spokesperson Yusufu Mwawa agreed with Nankhumwa, saying if the report will be tabled in the House, the party will look at it objectively and make its position clear at the time.
“Our prayer is that these allegations of corruption should be thoroughly investigated regardless of who is involved,” he said.
Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Enoch Chihana stressed that, according to rules of natural justice, impeachment ought to be the last resort, and not rushed.
Chihana explained that allegations can be made against anyone but what is important is that a due process of the law has to be respected to avoid a scenario whereby an innocent person is punished out of sheer public anger.
Gotani-Hara and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali did not pick our calls, but one Cabinet minister who asked for anonymity said MCP will not comment on the issue.
Justice Link executive director Justin Dzonzi also said impeachment is premature at this stage, but that investigations ought to be completed as a matter of urgency so that those mentioned and found wanting can be prosecuted while those cleared can be exonerated from any further public embarrassment.
Said Dzonzi: “So long as we keep in mind that an impeachment is a political process with judicial consequences so it needs to be dealt with as though it was a judicial process; one must be armed with sufficient evidence in order to make the minimum standards required.”
Impeachment procedures for the President or Vice-President, as laid down in Section 207(1), state: “A member wishing to move a motion to indict the President or the Vice-President for impeachment shall give a notice of intention to move such a motion, signed by one-third of members of the Assembly to the office of the Speaker seven days before the motion to indict the President or the Vice-President on impeachment is moved in the Assembly.”
Subsection (12) states that the motion on the indictment shall be passed in a secret ballot, by not less than two-thirds of all members of the National Assembly.
Section 208 reads: “(1) The Speaker shall, within 24 hours of the notice following a resolution on indictment cause a copy of the resolution to be transmitted to the Chief Justice who shall cause notice to be issued to the President or Vice President on the resolution of the indictment.
“(2) The Chief Justice shall, within seven days after receipt of the notice transmitted under Sub-Rule (1) constitute a tribunal comprising two Justices of the Supreme Court (excluding himself or herself) and a legal practitioner of good standing and with not less than 15 years’ experience at the bar to investigate the allegation in the indictment and to report its findings to the Assembly, stating whether or not there is a prima facie case for removal of the President or Vice-President.
In a statement signed by Office of the Vice-President director of communications Pilirani Phiri, the Vice-President denied allegations that he corruptly benefitted from Sattar who is under investigation on corruption charges.
Chilima expressed frustration with the manner the ACB handled the matter.
Commenting for the first time since his name was purportedly mentioned last month in a UK court on his alleged involvement with Sattar, his office said: “The report apparently makes serious allegations of criminal conduct against the Vice-President although as correctly observed by the President in his address, the report does not present any detail of the alleged criminal conduct.”
The last time an impeachment debate resurfaced was in 2011 during the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration, when some members wanted the then vice-president Joyce Banda, who had fallen out of favour with her boss and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), wanted her to be impeached, but the court ruled that the procedures the House wanted to use were unconstitutional.