Treating symptoms on Ansah and ACB issues

Led by the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), some Malawians have since June 2019 been agitating for the resignation of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah for allegedly messing up the May 21, 2019 presidential elections. The group has held protests of all manner and size, but Ansah has not resigned. Reason? She has the backing of President Peter Mutharika who appointed her as MEC chairperson.

This week, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director-general Reyneck Matemba has come under intense pressure to disclose names of the two persons who are alleged to have attempted to bribe two Constitutional Court judges. It all started with the Chief Justice (CJ) Andrew Nyirenda who reported to the ACB that some people had tried to bribe two judges hearing the Elections case. ACB already obtained statements from the two judges.

But Matemba has vowed not to arrest the two suspects, who have so far only known as a senior public officer and a prominent businessman. Keeping the identities of the two persons under wraps has left Malawians second-guessing about who they are.

Ansah’s refusal to resign as MEC chairperson and Matemba’s stand against disclosing the identities of the two persons or arresting them are similar. On both issues, Malawians are barking the wrong tree and expending their energy on trying to treat symptoms rather than the root cause of the disease.

In both issues, the problem is the powers that Malawians, through their Republican Constitution gave their President. He is the appointing authority for both the MEC chairperson and the ACB director general. The President is also the only authority with powers to fire the two officers. While many Malawians know why Ansah has stayed put—she has the backing of the President, ACB won’t expeditiously, or if at all, arrest the two persons because its director does not want to hurt the authority which put him in that position. Forget Matemba’s argument that the law does not allow him to make arrests before investigations are completed. While Matemba is dead right on the need to first investigate the matter before making arrests, Malawians are riled is because ACB seems to be taking forever to complete the investigations. After the two judges have submitted statements to the ACB, what more is holding ACB from doing the needful?

It is for the same reason the Malawi Law Society (MLS) this week weighed in on calls for the ACB to arrest persons who attempted to bribe judges.

MLS said in a statement on Monday that as a law enforcement agency, ACB is expected to immediately make the necessary investigations and arrests. The question then is what is reasonable time to complete the investigations? The attempted bribery issue is a serious and urgent one considering that the allegations about bribery are coming hot on the heels of the conclusion of the Elections Case and when the ConCourt judges are about to deliver their ruling. ACB should have expedited investigations on this all-important issue.

In short, while Matemba is right on the need to complete the necessary investigations before making arrests, he should not use the said investigations to fulfill his other ulterior motives.

But as I said earlier, Malawians are barking a wrong tree in both the Ansah and Matemba issues. Thinking that the two officers could have acted differently is, with due respect and honour, preposterous and a far cry from reality. The problem is rooted in the provisions of the legal framework governing the appointment of the key officers for MEC and ACB. The solution is therefore to change the law on how the two officers should be appointed. A good example is how the current Ombudsman—who is appointed not by the President but by the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament—as enshrined in Articles 120-128 of the 1994 Constitution and the Ombudsman Act, has discharged her duties.

Ansah should indeed have resigned as MEC chairperson because some Malawians lost trust in her even with the Elections Case still in court. ACB, on the other hand, should also by now, have expeditiously completed investigations on the bribery issue and arrested the two persons. But the real solution to the issues that are rocking MEC and ACB is to remove the ropes squeezing around the necks of the two officers and which reduce them to puppets of their appointing authority.

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