Catholic Bishops call for “a workable system of justice for all” in the wake of rampant corruption

The Judiciary 

* 1992 Pastoral Letter drew attention to one important arm of Government — the Judiciary which is responsible for the administration of justice

* They bemoaned how justice seemed to be aborted by administering selectively to the advantaged and powerful in society

* There are unfortunately some whose actions, decisions and judgements threaten to tarnish the image of the judicial system

* The Judiciary must always remember that it has a key role to play in the administration of justice and especially in the fight against corruption

By Duncan Mlanjira

As the country is reeling from shock over corruption that sorrounds Zuneth Sattar, Ashok Kumar Streedharan, Batawalala and their several business associates, Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi — in their 2022 Pastoral Letter — call on the judiciary for “a workable system of justice for all”.

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In celebration of Lent, the Catholic Bishops read their Pastoral Letter today, March 6, that commemorates the 30th anniversary of ‘Living Our Faith’ document that was authored in 1992.

The March 8, 1992 Pastoral Letter the Bishops wrote criticised former President late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s one party state under Malawi Congress Party (MCP) that eventually culminated into the country in a multi-party democracy.

Under ‘New Ills in our Country’, the current Bishops reminded the nation that the 1992 Pastoral Letter drew attention to one important arm of Government — the Judiciary, “which is responsible for the administration of justice”.

“They bemoaned how justice seemed to be aborted by administering selectively to the advantaged and powerful in society.

“In this area, we must applaud the Judiciary which has, on several occasions recently, demonstrated that it is acting with the independence required and expected of it.

Sattar at the centre of it all

Ashok sued ACB Director General 

“However, as has always been the case, there are unfortunately some whose actions, decisions and judgements threaten to tarnish the image of the judicial system.

“The Judiciary must always remember that it has a key role to play in the administration of justice and especially in the fight against corruption.

“In this regard, we appeal to the Judiciary to ensure that corruption cases are expedited and that everyone is seen to be treated fairly and similarly before the law.

“This builds public confidence that the Judiciary too is playing its role in a constructive way. The Judiciary must avoid making suspicious and questionable judgements and pronouncements which are seen neither to be promoting justice nor fighting corruption.”

The Judiciary is under scrutiny with accusations of being involved in corruption — an allegation it strongly denies — following events that sorrounded the arrest of Ashok, who was later granted bail which the Anti-Corruption Bureau had strongly rejected.

ACB Director General Martha Chizuma

Following the granting of the bail, ACB Director General, Martha Chizuma came under fire when she divulged confidential information as regards to the corruption investigation in which she accused the Judiciary of been corrupted for Ashok to be released on bail.

Ashok went on to sue Chizuma for defamation, saying her remarks in the audio that went viral on social media portrayed him as “an extremely corrupt person” and that he “corrupted a Judge to have him released from custody”.

This action by Ashok shocked people that led political, economic and social rights activist, Ken Msonda to explosively implore on Malawians to firmly stand up alongside Chizuma.

Msonda, while assuring the public that concerned Malawians have mobilized themselves to protect Chizuma and her office, implored on the legal system not to entertain any alleged corrupt individuals to seek court interventions.

High Court in Blantyre

He took cognizance that, yes, the legal counsels are in business and are enticed by huge sums of money to assist these corrupt individuals to defend them, but they should also consider that the money they would eventually be paid for their services is stolen from poor Malawians.

He urged them to apply wisdom and not just legal knowledge even though the law says one is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a competent court of law.

Thus the Bishops, in their Pastoral Letter say: “Loss of public trust in law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary fuels mob justice, public anger and is a recipe for civil disorder”.

“Our plea is that the Judiciary should always act with integrity guided by the principles that govern this noble profession.”

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The Bishops also touched on the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) and national disasters, saying they have noted that this year’s implementation of AIP “has been blatantly inadequate”.

“This programme designed to enhance food security among the poor lacks transparent and accountable implementation.

“Similarly, we find the response to national disasters very wanting especially in areas badly affected by Cyclone Anna, such as the Lower Shire.

“There is need to review these programmes and make them robust and effective.”

Displacement through floods

Just a week ago, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) was accused of selective distribution of relief aid to affected families of floods in Balaka, which DoDma denied — saying it does not distribute disaster relief items but rather hand them over to District Councils.

DoDMA said they only offer direction based on reports from the District Commissioners, who in turn identify the needy beneficiaries.

The selective distribution accusations came about after only one area of Phimbi in Balaka South was observed to be concentrated on despite official reports of plenty of others in the area.

There have been distribution exercises in Balaka which concerned people thought were organised by DoDMA in the past weeks for relief items, which excluded several of the most affected families in Nkaya while concentrating only on Mphimbi.

A report by Malawi News Agency (MANA) last week indicated that Gift of the Givers Foundation reached out to some 500 households in Phalula and Chanthunya in Balaka for various food and no-food items.

Gift of the Givers supporting in Phalula, Balaka

The report further said over 7,515 households in Balaka were affected by Cyclone Ana which forced many of them to relocate by seeking refuge in relief camps — most of which were churches and schools.

Project officer for Gift of the Givers, Innocent Mankhwazi told MANA that this was their third visit to Balaka where they distributed items such as food stuffs, shoes, as well as household utensils for affected families in T/A Kalembo, Amidu and Nkaya (Balaka South).

When contacted Balaka South Member of Parliament Ireen Mambala denied having any knowledge of the Gift of the Givers reaching out to the affected three camps in her Constituency as reported by MANA, saying only Phimbi was assisted.

Gift of the Givers also confirmed that they only go to areas which DoDMA suggests for them.

MP Mambala reaching out to affected families

But DoDMA spokesperson, Chimwemwe Njoloma told Maravi Express a week ago that the Department does not dictate where well-wishers can reach out to or whom to give but only offer information on where reports of needs are.

Njoloma had said DoDMA does not force any well-wisher to hand over the relief items to them in order for them to distribute on their behalf, saying “logistically, it’s better for us when well-wishers go to provide relief items themselves”.

This comes after some charitable organisations have preferred to distribute relief items themselves rather than using DoDMA, an indication that they are not comfortable to work with DoDMA for whatever reason for their loss confidence on the government department.

A few weeks ago, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) engaged Minister of Information Gospel Kazako to do the physical handover in Chikwawa while as soon as tragedy struck last month, Malawi Relief Fund UK swiftly reached out to affected people in Lower Shire — distributing on their own.

Kazako personally handing out relief items in Chikwawa

Then interacting with victims

However, many families were left homeless in Balaka South and as focus of relief items distribution is only in one area of Phimbi, some stranded people in three relief camps of Nkaya, Nsamala and Mpilisi were forced to repatriate from relief camps and seek refuge in their relations’ homes.

As DoDMA or the District Council paid more attention on Phimbi, the flood victims in the other camps were encouraged to go back to their homes at the suggestion of MP Mambala since spaces in the camps they set in schools and churches were not adequate.

Thus the Catholic Bishops advising the government for need to review the relief food distribution and people resettling programmes to be “robust and effective” while at the same to reach out to all.

Quoting the Bible from Micah 6, 8; “Love tenderly, act justly, walk humbly with your God”, the Bishops said the issues raised require ongoing reflection and action.

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“It is the Church’s mission to preach the Gospel which effects the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation, be it hunger, ill-health, corruption, ignorance, blind loyalty, despair, paralyzing fear, etc.

“Following Jesus, the believing community is invited, and at times obliged in justice, to show in action a preferential love for the poor, the oppressed and the voiceless.

“To ‘love tenderly, act justly and walk humbly with God’ in our present day in particular means denouncing, uncovering and uprooting corruption — the cancer that is largely responsible for keeping this country very poor and under-developed.

“Corruption causes untold suffering for the vast majority of ordinary Malawians who face crushing poverty on a daily basis.

“In the interest of building a more just and transparent Malawi that benefits all its citizens, let no agent of corruption, however powerful, wealthy or who their connections are, be shielded or protected, provided that he or she is given proper recourse to the legal processes of the courts.

“We stand with and applaud those who risk everything by standing up to corruption. They are shining examples of St. Paul’s exhortation: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5,11). Let us all say “NO” to corruption.

“The Catholic Bishops, thirty years ago, pointed out that by living our faith through what we do, we are going to build a better Malawi for all.

“Why have we not lived well our faith in the activities and programmes that we have been carrying out all these years?

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“As we forge ahead, what can we do to accomplish the aspirations of the Bishops in 1992 and have a better Malawi for all?

“May the Lenten call to conversion and our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter mark the beginning of a new dawn for all Malawians.

“May St. Joseph, the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ, watch over our country and obtain from God a spirit of integrity, patriotism, love and peace for all Malawians and for the whole of humanity.

Signed by Most Reverend George Tambala (President, Archbishop of Lilongwe and Apostolic Administrator of Zomba); Right Reverend Montfort Stima (Vice-President and Bishop of Mangochi); Most Reverend Thomas Msusa (Blantyre); Right Reverend Martin Mtumbuka (Karonga); Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa (Chikwawa); Right Reverend John Ryan (Mzuzu) and Right Reverend Peter Chifukwa (Dedza).