Malawi: Political crisis looms as VP Chilima graft scandal unfolds

By Archibald Kasakura

Posted on Monday, 3 October 2022 11:16
Malawi's President Chakwera and VP Saulos Chilima (photo: twitter)

A report by Malawi’s anti-corruption body has landed Vice President Saulos Chilima in hot water. With pressure from President Lazarus Chakwera, his second-in-command might be tried in court at some point, a scenario that could lead to a political deadlock.

A report released over three months ago by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has implicated Chilima in a $150m graft scandal, pushing President Lazarus Chakwera to strip him of all delegated powers.

According to the ACB report, a UK court mentioned that Chilima and several other top officials had “acted corruptly” by receiving different amounts of money in their dealings with a UK-based suspect, Zuneth Sattar.

Sattar – a naturalised British citizen – appeared before a London court some three months ago after being suspected of illicitly securing procurement contracts of different items, including water cannon trucks and food ration packs.

ACB director under fire

After Chakwera deprived him of prerogatives, Chilima, who has denied any wrongdoing and blamed the ACB for implicating him, can only perform vice presidential assignments as stipulated by the constitution. However, Chakwera is not satisfied.

“In the past two years, my administration has taken a zero-tolerance stance against corruption, shielding no one from investigation and prosecution, as well as removing and suspending from office those with a case to answer before our independent and credible courts of justice,” the Malawian leader said at a US State Department signing ceremony for a new $350m grant last week.

ACB has already instigated the arrest and trial of four officials accused of involvement alongside Chilima, but inaction towards the vice president has piled up pressure on the bureau’s director, Martha Chizuma, who has seemingly lost the presidency’s trust in her ability to handle corruption cases.

President Chakwera has repeatedly questioned Chizuma’s performance. Responding to a request for comment, Presidential Press Secretary Anthony Kasunda said the ACB chief does not seem to be living up to the expected standards.

“Like all Malawians, the president is monitoring the manner in which corruption cases are being handled by responsible institutions, with the expectation to see the unprecedented resources and support he has given them translate not into reports, but into results,” Kasunda says.

“In the absence of this, the president will have every right to meet Malawians’ demand for the deployment of more effective alternatives.”

Investigation underway

ACB’s Principal Public Relations Officer Egrita Ndala says that the bureau is yet to put Chilima on trial as it has to follow administrative protocols. According to her, the report was not meant to be used for prosecution purposes.

It is … quite a complex situation [that] can easily create or be exploited to create a political impasse…

“Since the president asked for actions the bureau will take, the report clearly indicated that the bureau would continue with the investigations on the matter and would only act after it had finished its investigations on particular issues that were before it, specifically those relating to procurement contracts at Malawi Defence Force [MDF] and Malawi Police Service [MPS],” Ndala says.

“Since the submission of the report and based on the full investigations it has so far carried out on [the] food ration contract … the bureau has arrested four of the six people mentioned at UK court and two others. The suspects were all taken to court.”

Political division

The fuss around Chilima puts to the test the Tonse Alliance that consists of nine parties, including the United Transformation Movement (UTM), which the Malawian vice president belongs to.

The UTM became a key partner in the electoral alliance after it wrested power from the former governing party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in the 2020 election.

A recent rally held by members of the UTM in the southern part of Malawi called on Chilima to quit the Tonse Alliance, accusing its alliance partner, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), of standing behind what they described as trumped-up graft charges to finish off the vice president’s political career.

Deadlock on the horizon?

Other entities have been pressing for quick legal action against Chilima, including the Malawi Law Society (MLS), an association of legal practitioners in Malawi.

“It is … quite a complex situation [that] can easily create or be exploited to create a political impasse because, of necessity, there should be practical intersection of the duties of the vice president under the constitution, under statute, and under the delegated role from the president,” says MLS Chairman Patrick Mpaka.

“We therefore call upon all institutions and state agents and organs, if and whenever it falls within their competence to play any role in dealing with the corruption allegations against the vice president, to support the ACB in its pursuit of any legal process that the bureau may deem appropriate.”

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