President Chakwera Mutes VP Chilima Over Corruption Allegations
President Lazarus Chakwera says he would have fired Vice President Saulos Chilima for his alleged involvement in corrupt activities connected to businessman Zuneth Sattar, but he cannot because the law does not allow him.
In a national address on a report by the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Martha Chizuma on Tuesday night, a visibly uneasy Chakwera said he has instead decided not to delegate any duties to the vice president until the ACB concludes its investigations.
“As for the Vice President, his office is unique in that the Constitution does not provide for his suspension or removal from it by the President, because he holds that office by the will of Malawian voters, which I respect. As such, the best I can do for now, which is what I have decided to do, is to withhold from his office any 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,” he stated.
Sattar, a British national and businessman, is said to have been bribing public officers in the Malawi Government in exchange for government contracts. He is currently facing multiple charges in the UK, in an investigation initiated by the National Crimes Agency (NCA).
The president had given the ACB 21 days to furnish him with a report on the so-called state capture by Sattar following his arrest in the UK.
In total, according to President Chakwera, 84 individuals have been named in the report for their involvement with Sattar in 2021, but he accused Ms. Chizuma of not being conclusive in her report, especially by not explicitly explaining how some individuals were involved.
The president said he has fired the Inspector General of Police (IG) Dr. George Kainja and suspended other key officials named in the report, including the chief of staff for state residences Prince Kapondamganga and the chairperson of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) John Suzi Banda.
He said the bureau’s report states that it has recordings of telephone conversations between Dr Kainja and Mr. Sattar, allegedly discussing procurement deals and kickbacks in which he seems compromised hence his decision to fire him.
Strangely, he said, the report contains no information or description of the others’ involvement, including the Vice President, only saying he is among the 13 which the bureau has investigated thoroughly.
“The Bureau has found that in the four years between 2017 and 2021, the Malawi Police Service and the Malawi Defence Force awarded 16 contracts worth over 150 million US dollars to five companies belonging to Mr. Sattar.
“One example the report cited involved a truck available on the market for 200 thousand dollars being sold to the Malawi Government for over 1.7 million dollars,” he disclosed, “This means that another driver of corruption in our country is the country’s procurement laws allowing evaluators to accept prices that are clearly unfair to Malawians.”
According to Dr Chakwera, the Bureau found that a total of 53 public officers and former public officers allegedly received money from Mr. Sattar between March 2021 and October 2021, including officials from the Malawi Defence Force, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Malawi Revenue Authority and the PPDA.
Others include officers from the Office of the President and Cabinet, Office of the Vice-President, Judiciary; ministries of justice, finance, information, homeland security, lands and tourism; State House, Reserve Bank of Malawi, Financial Intelligence Authority, the ACB; 31 private sector individuals, the media, civil society and the legal fraternity.
There has been no immediate comment from Dr. Chilima but previously said he would allow the law to take its course.
President Chakwera openly expressed dissatisfaction with a number of issues regarding how Ms. Chizuma has conducted the investigation – among these her decision to share the report with the Speaker of Parliament and the Chief Justice, whom she said have no legal mandate to receive such reports from the ACB.
Chizuma is said to have justified her decision to share the report with the other arms of government as an act of transparency, but the president insists doing so would prejudice the process of justice.
“I have taken these measures to address a seventh factor that drives corruption, namely the continuation of official public duties by those accused of wrongdoing by an independent institution like the Bureau.
“I find it bizarre for the Bureau to leave out the names of those from the first 12 of the 13 years in which the corruption allegedly happened.
“… because of the glaring information gaps in its report, including the absence of any information about what the Bureau’s plan of action is, I consider the report to be an example of substandard work. And on a matter as serious and sensitive as this, Malawians deserve better.”
Dr Chakwera appealed to the ACB to share the report with Malawians at large, because, according to him, the need to keep it secret has already been compromised by having it submitted to other offices.
In a special broadcast of the Views Triangle on Zodiak radio last evening social and legal commentors reacted differently.
Michael Kayiyatsa, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation said the president seems to have lost trust in the ACB by publicly accusing Ms. Chizuma of doing substandard work.
He said Malawians should therefore regard the report as an interim one, adding that he would have loved it if the president had discussed his reservations with the ACB chief privately.
Governance and political expert George Chaima said he has no problem with the president’s open accusation of Ms. Chizuma, saying he has the right to do so if he is not contented with the report.
“He is just being honest with his observations. The ACB should work on those shortfalls. The report is for Malawians not the president so he is simply speaking on behalf of Malawians,” he added, “What he wants is that ACB should be professional so that Malawians and the world at large can have trust in it like how it was with the judges in the presidential elections cases.”
Lawyer Syvester Ayuba James said, “The president has spoken out of ignorance. He does not know what report he is supposed to receive from the ACB. He is not supposed to receive detailed investigative reports, so what the ACB did was to give him something in between a specific report and job report. This is why the president thinks it is substandard. If he knew, [the law] he would have known that he does not have those powers, according to the law.”