A den of thieves, a cowboy’s playhouse: The dirty shenanigans of public appointments in Malawi

The truth has a way of coming out. You see, the problem with the truth is that if you try to conceal it, you only succeed in encouraging it to want to reveal itself even more… It may take time before it’s out, and sometimes the people who get to know about it, are not always those who sought to know it ,(or lived through the times) in the first place, but out it will come. Let’s take one example from history…

Remember Stalin? The Joseph Stalin. Ioseb Jughashvili, that guy. Remember how he tried to misrepresent the events that happened in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933, with the Soviet Politburo summarising the famine which their Collectivisation policy had created in Ukraine (which killed 3.9 million Ukrainians) as ‘an accidental inevitable starvation due to Kulak Corruption and problems with the climate and harvest’?

Well, wasn’t it barely 8 years later in 1941, when an agricultural economist, S. Sosnovyi published a study in a Ukrainian newspaper of how the Soviets deliberately tried to destroy Ukrainian peasant opposition to Soviet Power, with disastrous effects, and subsequently lied that the famine had been caused by “natural causes”.

The lesson being no matter how powerful you think you are, no matter the size of your army, no matter how big your tanks are, or how deep your pockets are, if you’re hiding wrongdoing, the truth … will eventually come out.

Anyway, I digress. The decision of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) of Malawi’s Parliament to refuse to confirm President Chakwera’s appointment of Martha Chizuma as Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has caused great anger to most Malawians of goodwill around the world, and has created a crisis, which threatens to shatter certain conventions of public appointments in Malawi.

You see Malawians love Martha Chizuma. She is not only an accomplished prosecutor but is a legend who has worked diligently as the Ombudsman to stand against corruption, impropriety, misappropriation of state resources, and greed of public officials in Malawi, and has successfully investigated and concluded many cases, even during the DPP administration of Peter Mutharika, when ‘fighting corruption‘ was largely a lip service exercise by the authorities.

Unfortunately, some parliamentarians haven’t yet received the memo that these days Malawians mean business. These MPs think it’s up to them to block the appointment of a star who many people trust and love, and whose record speaks for itself.

The reasons why some members of PAC decided to score her down are simple and can be summarised into one short sentence: they’re playing politics and are afraid.

Lets just say someone who has a track record of busting graft, uncovering dirt, and forcing accountability is definitely not a safe pair of hands to lead the ACB for people with skeletons in their closets.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392079028266340356?s=19

Simply put, some people on PAC are afraid that if Chizuma becomes head of ACB, she will go after them or their party’s leadership, and investigate the tens of unresolved Political Corruption cases that have been languishing in our courts for years and years. To add to that, there’s a lot of finger pointing and laying of blame between the political parties in Malawi, even between those in the Tonse Alliance…and some people are using this episode to carve out political capital. Uje ndi uje ngoipa, gulu lathu nde labwino

Speaking with a close friend about the Martha Chizuma fiasco, he summed up the conduct of the committee as ‘A den of thieves’ and ‘a cowboy’s playhouse’:

Not only are most of them only interested in enriching themselves, fat salaries, perks ontop of perks, but the moment a really good idea that has the potential to transform our country for the better comes to the fore, they shoot it down! Its a den of thieves, a cowboy’s playhouse!”

President Chakwera, in a speech in Parliament yesterday condemned the decision of PAC, and said it slowed down the fight against Corruption. There are now calls for a detailed report for the proceedings that led to her rejection.

But ultimately there is such a thing as right and wrong. And as elected officials, MPs on the committee are not there in their own capacities or to further personal or professional agendas. We shouldn’t forget that they’re elected to Parliament to represent the people, and are therefore subject to the scrutiny and will of the people.

Thus, if the rejection to Chizuma’s appointment was a legitimate reflection of the dominant sentiments in their constituencies, then let them publish details of how they consulted with people in their constituencies before giving Chizuma a low score? Surely that would be one transparent and clear way of explaining themselves and of showing that the Malawians they represent do not want Martha Chizuma as Director of ACB?

But if they’re unable to provide that evidence, then it’s totally fair to question their motives and intentions, especially when several other members of PAC gave Chizuma a full 25/25.

And while many people do not fully agree with the presidential appointments process, right now it’s what we have. And until we adopt something else, something better, the current system needs to be made to work for the betterment of our country. It shouldn’t be allowed to function in a way that is contrary to or defeats the overall aims and objectives of good governance.

Martha Chizuma is spotless, her record is impeccable. Malawi needs someone like her to help clean up the mess and theft and rogue conduct that has defined our country’s politics for nearly 30 years, and has greatly contributed to the poverty in our country.

And for those who are making comparisons with confirmation hearings in the US, by Senate committees in matters of appointments by US presidents, my answer to that is that the circumstances between confirmation hearings in the US and in Malawi are very different.

In the US scenarios, the kind of Politics at play is very different from what we have in Malawi, and there is often transparency as to why a nominee is objected to. In Malawi we don’t even know why Chizuma was given a 1/25 score by some of the MPs on PAC. Further, if you have been following US Politics for any length of time, you’ll know that the Republican Party has been known to frustrate confirmation processes just because they want to be the ones to make that appointment when a Republican President comes into power. The case of Merrick Garland is one such example. The Martha Chizuma affair is vastly different.

Right now a freedom of information request has been submitted by the unrelenting and absolutely brilliant Idriss Ali Nassah. Let’s wait to see what that delivers, but if I were to make a prediction, my money is on Chizuma becoming ACB chief, one way or another.

How to ensure that high profile people in Malawi face Justice for their corrupt practices.

While in the last hour news has reached us of the arrest of Peter Mutharika’s aide Norman Chisale, who has been accused of widespread corrupt practices, there have been many complaints over the last few weeks regarding the Anti-corruption Bureau(ACB), the official body tasked with clamping down on corrupt practices in Malawi.

Malawians are dissatisfied with the pace and direction in which the ACB is taking. Many are saying that the authorities are only targeting low-level criminals, while the big fish, the high-profile politicians who have been accused of corrupt practices at one point or another, are not being pursued, or are not being pursued quick enough.

Some people have even said that if high profile criminals are not arrested then those low level people who have been arrested might as well just be released and set free because it’s not fair that only the common people are pursued when it comes to corruption.

Now while building a convincing case against someone accused of corruption can take time, I believe many of us are missing the point.

The scale and level of corruption in Malawi was so deep, so systemic, so perverse, so pervasive, so widespread and so flagrant that the ACB is unlikely to have the human resource to deal with all the complaints that are being unearthed quick enough.


What is needed instead is Citizen Power; Citizen Action, for people to get together and gather the evidence required to build a successful Anti-corruption case. This evidence can then be used by Human Rights organisations to commence Anti-corruption actions in the courts in Malawi, but where the ACB and others can then join as interested parties.

Such a tactic would ensure that no one gets away with wrongdoing, and would force the authorities to pursue people who are perceived to be untouchable, for all sorts of reasons.
Of course ideally the ACB should take the lead in commencing such prosecutions. But when that is not yet possible, in all cases involving high profile suspects, I think it falls on the people of Malawi to do something.

Mind you, it wasn’t the ACB that led the way for the Tonse Alliance Government to come into power. Instead it was Malawians who organised and created a powerful movement that exposed the widespread irregularities which led to the nullification of the 2019 elections. It was the same Malawians who demonstrated day in and day out for 10 months+, culminating in a new election that toppled the corrupt regime of Peter Mutharika.

So we should not abdicate our responsibility to our country, by expecting the impossible from the ACB. This is the same ACB that has failed to to investigate tens of corruption cases over the last 20+ years.
Thus, it is definitively up to Malawians to build convincing Anti-corruption cases against all the figures we believe, who we know or who have good reason, and evidence to believe, stole from Mother Malawi.

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:

Chikaonda-Anadkat

  • 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…

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Cashgate’s Missing pieces: The many puzzles in Malawian politics

kachaje-paste

party

priorities

Just a few example of what people are saying online. As I’ve stated several times previously, social media is always awash with scandal. Overflowing speculation, literally bubbling with the stuff. That’s the picture one gets when they visit Facebook groups such as this.

If it wasn’t for the well-known fact that some of this stuff that begins its journeys circulating on social media actually end up being true, or at least not entirely false, I’d just give up on some of these groups altogether.

Inevitably, things people say within Social Media can be hard to distinguish from mere speculation, and that means if you source some material from them, and present it as fact, you are taking a risk. Having said that, the situation becomes different when the speculation contains more than a few truths within it. And when it is presented as speculation.

Below are some of the  views that I have recently encountered, which minimally presents the sentiments within some quarters in Malawi. Whether these views represent a majority is doubtful. Whether they are genuine (as opposed to parody) is open to question…

joyce BandaThis is in response to a news update that appeared on president Banda’s Facebook page that the president had been appointed as Patron of the Nelson Mandela Children’s hospital Trust :

patron

And then there are the allegation’s against the presidency and supposed conspirators within the cashgate. This was published today on the social media outlet I referred to above:

NEW CASHGATE REVELATIONS: CIVIL SERVANT FILISA BEING PROTECTED BY JOYCE BANDA

Malawi’s Cashgate beleaguered interim President Joyce Hilda Mtila Banda has been caught in a catch 22 situation where she has sacrificed some officials while protecting those that will expose her involvement in the Cashgate corruption scandal.

We can reveal that McFelton Filisa, a civil servant who has stolen millions in taxpayer’s money but is being protected by President Joyce Banda from prosecution.

Efforts by the Anti-Corruption Bureau to arrest him after twice appearing before them for investigations have fallen on deaf ears.

MCFELTON FILISA HISTORY

Mcfelton Filisa is a Chancellor College graduate in Computer Science who works in the Malawi Government’s Civil Service Commission. He joined Malawi government in 2007.

Filisa is one if the IT experts used by President Joyce Banda to raid IFMIS and syphon government money.

We are reliably informed that from every transaction Filisa made on behalf of the President, he received 10 per cent of whatever millions were syphoned out.

When he worked in the Accountant General’s office, Filisa’s work was to enter fictitious payments in the IFMIS system and after processing them to delete them and leave no trail.

He was however, transferred to the Civil Service Commission after his clandestine activities with President Joyce Banda were leaked to the media by his estranged wife.

Although he has changed offices, Filisa has got user-rights to continue accessing the IFMIS system.

He is reported to have been keeping at least MK50 million at a go in his residence on many occasions.

MCFELTON FILISA PROPERTY

Mr Filisa lives in opulence. He owns:

4 houses: One in Area 25 , 2 houses in New Area 49 ,1 house with swimming pool in New Area 49 Gulliver
1 house in Area 47 Sector 5 , 1 4X4 Lexus Land Cruiser, 1 Mercedes Benz, 1 BMW , 1Toyota Fortuner

HOUSE IN AREA 49, NEW GULLIVER

This house in the pictures is a Cashgate house that belongs to Mcfelton Filisa.
Initially, Filisa had wanted the property to be a lodge.

However, work at the site has been stopped because of disagreements with his estranged wife who is also claiming the same property.

When we visited the multi-million house this week we discovered the following; it has cctv cameras, every room has a jacuzzi, it has a very nice fish pond, and they use electronic cards to open the doors.

My first problem with this is where did this guy get all this information from? He doesn’t say so, and that in itself is problematic, if not suspect. Further, who is he, a member of the Anti-corruption bureau? A forensic investigator? Or a concerned citizen? Whoever he is, such news stories are many and commonplace, they are the order of the day in Malawi. Days before, the same person posted a story alleging that the president was constructing a filling station and blocks of flats in Lilongwe:

filling-station

And a few days previously:

PaulMphwiyo

Yesterday, the well-known lawyer Z Allan Ntata, who informally goes by the name The Chief Mourner put out the following about Mpwiyo:

PAUL MPHWIYO LIED TO PARLIAMENT AND SHOULD BE PROSECUTED, NOT PROMOTED

Paul Mphwiyo perjured himself before Parliament and ought to be prosecuted. Mphwiyo told PAC he has a number of businesses that support his lifestyle. He said tha ACB probed him some time back and found nothing.

When ACB investigated him it turned out that none of the businesses he alleged could support his extravagant lifestyles. When ACB interrogated his alleged business partners they all denied making the kind of money Paul alleged and even referred the ACB to a banker who could vouch for Pauls crookedness.

Either ACB is corrupt or incompetent because all it had to do is cross check with MRA. Some one who is in business and makes enough money to buy a number of Fortuners and M class Mercedes as well as build a big house in months, furnished entirely from China and then put in a swimming pool, drill a high powered borehole, put I’m CCTV and still have money left over to fly to Disneyland USA with his family for a short break must be in big business and must be paying high taxes.

If there is no record of his business taxes at MRA then he either perjured himself at PAC, paid off ACB, or is guilty of tax evasion or all three.

Paul Mphwiyo needs to be brought to book and prosecuted for either of or all of these offenses, IF the President is serious about cashgate, not rewarded with a promotion as President Banda has done.

On the subject of assets, a few weeks earlier, someone posted this about Joyce Banda:

Joyce Banda’s wealth: Assets = Stella Maris Townhouses worth about MK 100 million, House in Kabula 100 million, Kanjuwe Building used for selling sugar 50 million, Ndirande Building used for selling 6 million, House in Chintheche 150 million, 50 tippers at 10 million each, 700 trucks masked under other names, school 300 million, current allowances for foreign trips = US $ 9000 per day, Trips around Africa $ 6000 per day, Local Allowances 12-15 million a day!!  How did she acquire all this wealth? If a tax audit was done by independent authorities, will she be found to be innocent?

Again big question marks everyuwhere. Is this propaganda?

However, regarding Mpwiyo, if it is the case that he lied, then it is unfortunate, as the impression that has been put forward all alomng by the government of Malawi is that he was trying to bust graft. Having said that, there are many people who claim Mphwiyo is not clean. These people say that Mphwiyo is in fact a crook. The specific evidence to their claims is what is missing.

A few days ago someone wrote:

…I feel exactly the same way. It is true in Malawi we are not free yet. There is no true democracy, people are still living as though they are being ruled by dictators. We do not have to hide our feelings, we do not have to walk the line that they have drawn for us, we must not stand for any more mediocrity but must ask more from our politicians and our selves. The statement Ukapilile must stop being chanted. We must take the example of the 1st world nations and start firing our politicians, just cause they has a seat does not mean they can not be impeached. It is our money they are playing and our lives. We as Engineers, Doctors, Economists, Managers, Accountants, etc. educated as we are yet we can not, in our own country afford the same life styles that our fellows are able to afford in the same line of work as us in there countries. Let us stop talking in our homes and march to the beat of our own drums and tell them no more. We will not be brain washed by your empty promises, we will not lay and wait as you plunder all that is ours, and we will not go gentle into that…

Frustration and helplessness in the face of what they view as a government which is doing too little to help. On the same day, another person wrote:

If you let someone undermine you, they will do exactly that. Political and economic stability in Africa in general is just a dream for most because they have allowed themselves to be undermined by their political masters. Dictatorship clothed in democracy is being extensively tolerated by the same people being short changed. Economy is being used as a tool to decide and rule to avoid accountability by the theives disguised as political leaders. We have too many political parties because each one is not interested in serving the people but personal glory of the individuals concerned.

Whether you view this as more philosophical than practical, or as a protest against a system that is broken from the core, it seems there are quite a considerable number of people who see the system itself as being at fault. The other day another person wrote something similar: 

…Our cultural background has made us adopt informal norms in governance, in which the leadership is feared, adored and worshiped even in the wake of gross public resource mismanagements and poor governance. The idea of ‘big man’ ‘ngwazi’ ‘chitsulo cha njanji’ etc have catapulted our leaders into less responsive leaders, because they turn into semi-gods and untouchables as such they become arrogant (a worst form of stupidity). Political policies must be formulated to regulate giving too much power to our leaders, for them to be servants not masters. We cannot scrap important notions of our constitution, but we can regulate some clauses that put in danger and disrepute our hard won democracy. Secondly, the citizenry is more concerned with a government that is responsive; when our people ask for a borehole, know for sure they have suffered long enough. A responsive government will always address pertinent issues that affect its people outright and beforehand. The people’s interest and their emancipation must come first.

Then there are the general grievances against the investigations into cashgate:

Mayaya-cashgatelutepo2

Including some who think not enough is being done to get to the bottom of Cashgate, and that there’s still more to be done:

auditsThere are many view over the events that have been unfolding, but I have to end this post here.

Only time will tell how true these serious allegations are, and I hope the courts in Malawi will uphold justice over political favours throughout the investigation process. But one can’t be too sure… The preliminary findings (below according to one source) are not exactly what you would call encouraging:

preliminary-report

My own viewpoint is that as a matter of principle, a leader’s credibility is greatly diminished when they stand in the way of an investigation. It doesn’t matter who the leader is. Irrespective of the efficacy of the judicial system within a country, a political leader must not obstruct due legal process.