Slow Justice: delays / inaction of Malawi’s institutions symptomatic of a weak democracy?
There’s a bad habit in Malawi of authorities sitting on cases (in which shady dealings or suspect conduct had taken place) and piling them on the shelf for years and years. This almost intrinsic dormancy does not only affect formal legal cases. Even others which are strictly speaking neither before a court of law nor pending investigations of impropriety (but are nonetheless issues which in any decent democracy would call for investigations) are simply ignored, or at least not attended to. In Malawi, depending on who is in power, people often get prosecuted only after a new leader hostile to the old regime comes into power. At least that’s what seems to have been happening in the past.
And it’s not because there are no competent bodies to do the investigation or order the prosecutions (there is the Anti-corruption Bureau, the Judiciary or even the Public Affairs Committee to highlight wrongdoing). Yet more often than not, you find issues which should have been investigated or cases which should have been brought to an end dragging on for years and years, when it is clear (or the suspicions are somewhat overwhelming) that wrongdoing may have occurred.
Obviously, such a state of affairs is undesirable and can only mean one or more of a number of things: (i) A weak democracy with weak institutions incapable of competently undertaking their jobs for the benefit of Malawians – an unattractive market to any investor. or it can mean (ii) Political interference obstructing the course of justice – making the market even more unattractive to investors ; or (iii) Under-resourced or overstretched institutions failing to allocate resources or cope with workload …
Among the cases / suspicious issues which call for investigation or are yet to be concluded in Malawi are the following:-
- Bingu Wa Mutharika’s unexplained wealth (see another source here)
- Bingu’s relationship with Mota-Engil
- Malawi: Ex-President Muluzi’s corruption trial – this trial has had some severe delays partly due to Muluzi’s ill health, and at one point last year, the then head of ACB couldn’t make a court date because he had to appear before a magistrate for a matter the ACB director had been arrested over. (see another source here and additional / alleged charges against Muluzi here)
- Pioneer Chemicals saga which named Goodall Gondwe (never mind his latest turn back into politics) was dropped by the ACB with little explanation other than that ACB lacked evidence. Why then did ACB make the allegation in the first place?? What did they see or hear that drove them to make the allegation?
- Patricia Kaliati – Nyika Corruption saga (See another report here. A further corruption case against Kaliati here)
- Apollo International fiasco in which Ken Lipenga has some explaining to do
- Fertiliser subsidy saga which raises possibilities of conflicts of interests affecting cabinet ministers in Joyce Banda’s government
- The Midnight six – how can people who plotted what was effectively a coup in a democracy be dealt with so leniently? Will they be let off the hook? Will they go to prison? Will the President pardon them? Something doesn’t add up…
- The Paladin Kayelekera Uranium issue (see other links here and here). While Paladin has denied any involvement in paying bribes, to me two questions still remain: How could the government have signed such a bad contract with little or no benefit to Malawi – and how could such an action be justified as being in the interest of Malawians? (ii) Secondly, which Fraud/ Corrupt company ever admitted to paying bribes or doing wrong? (See related document about Paladin’s activities / transparency record here: Radioactive Revenues)
- Mathews Chikaonda and Hitesh Anadkat – the K320 million corporate scam, in which investors lost money, and which was alleged to have been a case of insider trading. However, as most Malawians know, president Joyce Banda has a close relationship with the duo, and in one instance was pictured wearing attire with colours of FMB, the bank in which Anadkat is the Vice Chairman. The scandal was reported on Nyasa Times on March 6, 2012, although interestingly, the story has since been deleted – reinforcing some of the things people on social media have been saying about Nyasa Times’ lack of impartiality. Luckily for those of us who know how to hack our way around the web, a cached version (which we have downloaded in full) is still available on google (accessible via this link), as can be seen below:
- Dr Kamuzu Banda’s estate – was it really all legally obtained? Don’t Malawians deserve to know? In the bbc article, the writer says a missing death certificate is the reason why overseas financial institutions will not release the information regarding his accounts. My question is this: if there was genuine leadership in Malawi, wouldn’t it be in the interest of the country, for the government (or the appropriate authority / hospital) to request the issue of another replacement death certificate, to audit the source of Banda’s wealth??
- Then there are alleged cases of corruption mentioned in links such as these , which names late Aleke Banda, Cassim Chilumpha, Bakili Muluzi, the current vice president Khumbo Kachali and the president herself.
Reading all these allegations, it makes one wonder, if there wasn’t an investigation at the time when the cases were reported, if no one was prosecuted, and there was no clear clarification / acquittal, what hope would there be today of ending graft in Malawi?
In almost every advanced country in the world, institutions such as Anticorruption bodies and the judiciary operate independently of the government. If an official or politician commits what is clearly a crime or is involved in some kind of shady conduct, the courts in collaboration with investigators and the media will often get to the bottom of the matter, irrespective of whether the politician / official belongs to the ruling party or some power bloc.
This fact alone is probably one of the best indicators of a healthy democracy.
But in most African countries, this kind of thing doesn’t happen. Rather, one’s liability to prosecution is influenced by how many friends they keep in high political office, the police , the judiciary and suchlike.
How then can our democracies in Africa progress if our institutions are not genuinely independent of the powers that be?
So, on top of all that pile of cases add Cashgate to the list with its many complex scandals (most recently see here)…and it starts to become clear that the road to a functional democracy in Malawi, one with effective institutions that operate independent of the government, will be a very long one…