• August 14, 2022 8:49 pm

Chizuma’s popularity wanes as court chides ACB over Msukwa prosecution

Jul 30, 2022

 

In light of what this Court has observed above respecting the applicable law on the application before it, it finds and concludes that the application for the continuation of stay succeeds._
_”It is therefore this Court’s finding and conclusion that the order of stay pending appeal sought by the 1st  Claimant be granted.

The above statements are now seemingly becoming a norm in the Courts against the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), probably enough reason for director Martha Chizuma to be sweating over how best to keep her job amid concerns that she is fast losing public trust.

It is common knowledge that the embattled director sailed to the ‘lucrative’ seat, against all odds, with the help of public demand and also the unwavering support of her appointing authority, President Lazarus Chakwera.

But as time passes by, it seems even her staunchest of fans may have to eventually join the bandwagon of critics that have already felt shortchanged by how Chizuma has conducted herself in leading the national fight against corruption in the country since her appointment.

Of a particular concern is the continued ‘defeats’ in the court against suspected fraud public officials the ACB attempts to prosecute, which can eventually lead to her own undoing.

The latest to ‘benefit’ from Chizuma’s seemingly ‘lapse’ on the job is Kezzie Msukwa, a former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

Msukwa can now breathe a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court on Friday [July 29, 2022] sustained a stay order his defence team obtained barring the ACB from commencing court proceedings against him, pending an appeal, in a suspected corruption case against him.

Following revelations about his suspected involvement in a corruption scandal, President Lazarus Chakwera did what he has always said he would do to corruption suspects, even closer to him.
He fired Msukwa from his Cabinet, in line with his strict anti-graft stance when thre former minister was implicated in the corruption scandal, at least until after he gets his name cleared through some due process.

Explaining to the firing of Msukwa later on, the President claimed that this it was in line with what he had promised Malawi enroute to attaining the country’s presidency; insisting that there won’t be no ‘sacred cows’ in his reign.

And true to his words, the President has not wavered nor hesitated in chiding anyone connected to corruption, even his own close associates.

The drastic measures taken include ‘suspending’ his Vice Saulos Chilima who is said to have been implicated in corrupt underdealings involving Britain-based business mogul, Zennith Abdul Rashid Sattar.

As for Msukwa, he is being suspected by the ACB to have had a hand in the dubious sale of a plot in Area 46/2057 in the country’s capital Lilongwe, which was allegly purchased by the same Sattar.

To avoid his arrest and subsequent prosecution on the same, Msukwa sought some tempirary relief from the High Court, insisting that he be tried at least after some judicial review to the matter.

Among others, Msukwa’s defence team argued before the court in May that the ACB was not supposed to act or arrest and prosecute the former Minister based on information released by the [British] National Crimes Agency; claiming it was illegally obtained.

Also, they insisted that the sale of the said plot commenced before Msukwa was appointed line Minister.

The Court duly granted Msukwa the stay order to which Chizuma appealed against.

Thus the sustained stay order on Friday, handed out by Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeal Frank Kapanda, stops -forthwith- the anti-graft body from investigating, arresting and prosecuting Msukwa based on information gathered from the National Crimes Agency of the British Government who are also trying Sattar over alleged corruption cases.

As it stands, Msukwa remains a free man, at least pending an appeal which Kapindu has directed that it should be held “before a full bench of the Court [of Appeal]

In his ruling, Kapanga agreed that the ACB’s application for a warrant of arrest and the subsequent arrest was “an abuse of power in that the drastic measure of arrest ought to be used as the last resort and only adverted to when necessary and not in the circumstances obtaining herein”; further arguing that the whole move was done in bad faith and that it unreasonably meant “only to embarrass the Claimant in the way of his then office as Minister.”

The ruling also faulted Chizuma for engaging the Bureau in entering a formal or informal cooperation arrangements with the purpose of exchanging information or evidence in criminal matters with enforcement agencies or authorities outside Malawi, [in this case, the National Crimes Agency] without going through the Attorney General as required by law.

The Court has since ordered that the office of the Attorney General be party of the case, starting with the appeal which Kapindu insisted that it has to be done by a full bench of Justices of the Supreme Court.

“… under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, it is only the Attorney General as a designated authority who has the mandate to enter into cooperation arrangements for purposes of exchanging information or evidence in criminal matters with foreign agencies and international organisations,” reads the judgement in part.

Noting, and rightly so, that the issue and other other related matters concerning and surrounding Sattar has attracted a lot of public debate “and is very much in the public discourse space”, Kapindu said that now that the stay order was sustained, the case be expedited more than ever.

The Justice said: “It is only proper therefore that now that the stay is to continue and the matter proceeds to appeal that same  should be expedited so that these issues raised in the appeal should be dealt with by the full bench of this Court. The appeal will be fast tracked for determination at an early date. It is so ordered accordingly and the Registrar of the Supreme Court shall facilitate the expedited hearing of the appeal.”

Confirming the development to journalists outside the Court on Friday, lawyer for Msukwa Chimwemwe Kalua explained that the Court agreeing with them and granting the stay order was the only way to make the appeal valid claiming without which, the ACB would have gone ahead to arrest his client, Msukwa on the very issues that are subject of an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Kalua also welcomed the order by the court to have the office of the Attorney General added as a party in the Case, arguing the issues of his client has raised touch on the said office and the Constitution [of the Republic].

Chizuma rose to the ACB top seat after an impressive resumè she built for herself when she served as the country’s first female Ombudsman under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regime.

Many thought her passion to see justice done would be the missing piece to the country’s never-ending anti-graft puzzle.

And even when the Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament initially rated her below satisfactory during the interview for the job, Chizuma was saved by some widespread public outcry and President Chakwera’s unwavering stance to get his preferred top dog also helped her secure the job.

Chakwera has always, and publicly so, defended Chizuma but her continued amateurish approach to matters of such a strong public interest will eventually have to cost her, if not the nation as a whole.

With only name-tainting and no meaningful prosecution to show in the two years she has headed the ACB, Chizuma’s time at the Bureau may be coming to an end.

Her boss, the President, has always been a proponent of an adminstration that prioritise the rule of law.

Thus, it may therefore not be sustainable to promote the same when law suits against suspected image taintings, lurking around the corner, stand to rob the country of the already meagre public funds that Chakwera plans to put to good use in building a new Malawi.

Currently, a lot still works in her favour since she assumed the office:

Parliament has also just accorded her body some independent prosecutory powers by passing in the August House last week the Corrupt Practices [Amendment] Bill, pending a Presidential consent to it.

Since Chakwera rose to power, the ACB has also benefitted from increased financing from the public purse, with almost all sectors agreeing on the need for concerted efforts in curbing corruption in the country.

As we speak, she still has the backing of the powersthat be, and she better not bertsy the trust.

Just three days ago, the Pesident yet again reiterated- at the just-ended National Anti-Corruption Conference which Chakwera presided in Blantyre- of his support for her towards the course of leading the country’s anti-graft fight.

Nevertheless, the story may soon become different if Chizuma keeps pulling these howlers in the job.

Chizuma must therefore put her act together or the President’s hand is going to be forced on her.

-Ends-

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