Chakwera spits fire; Withholds Chilima from any delegated duties, fires IG, suspends State Residences’ Chief of Staff

Saulos Chilima under scrutiny 

* The Vice-President’s office is unique in that the Constitution does not provide for his suspension or removal from it by the President

* And that he holds that office by the will of Malawian voters, which Chakwera respects, this is “the best” he could “do for now”

* IG George Kainja, who was found by the ACB to have been recorded through telephone conversations with Sattar

* Allegedly discussing procurement deals and kickbacks — thereby deemed to have been compromised

By Duncan Mlanjira

Following Vice-President Saulos Chilima being amongst those implicated in the corrupt dealings with suspect, Zuneth Sattar, President Lazarus Chakwera has withheld his deputy from any delegated duties while waiting for the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to substantiate its allegations against him and to make known its course of action in relation to all corruption cases.

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In his national address this evening, Chakwera said as Vice-President’s office “is unique in that the Constitution does not provide for his suspension or removal from it by the President” and that “he holds that office by the will of Malawian voters” — which he respects, this is “the best” he could “do for now”.

The President has also acted on others implicated that includes the Inspector General (IG) of the Malawi Police, George Kainja, who was found by the ACB to have been recorded through telephone conversations with Sattar — allegedly discussing procurement deals and kickbacks — thereby deemed to have been compromised and has been fired from office.

Removed as IG, George Kainja

Chakwera said: “On the final day of last month, I addressed you on matters related to allegations that a British national and businessman — named Zuneth Sattar — had been bribing public officers in the Malawi Government in exchange for Government contracts.

“As you may recall, on that day, I appealed to the Anti-Corruption Bureau to submit a report to my office within 21 days in order to inform Malawians of the full extent of the matter and enable me to make informed decisions that honour the Constitution, respect the rules of natural justice, and protect the independence of our institutions.

“Now that the 21 days have elapsed, I have come to address you again on the key findings of the Anti-Corruption Bureau as contained in the report the Bureau has submitted to me.

“I have isolated 10 key findings that I believe are worth highlighting as pointers to the factors that drive and fuel corruption in this country.”

He highlighted that the ACB has found that in the four years between 2017 and 2021, the Malawi Police Service and the Malawi Defence Force awarded 16 contracts worth over US$150 million to five companies belonging to Sattar.

Chilima and Chakwera in better times

“This means that one driver of corruption in Malawi is the country’s procurement laws allowing contracts to be awarded to companies without regard for the beneficial ownership of those companies, which allows businesspersons to capture the State through unknown contract monopolies.

“As such, I have directed the Minister of Justice to fast track the legislation we have been working on to change this.”

He also said the ACB has found that in some contracts, “the Malawi Government is defrauded through unfairly high and inflated prices” and that “one example the report cited involved a truck available on the market for US$200,000 being sold to the Malawi Government for over US$1.7 million”.

“This means that another driver of corruption in our country is the country’s procurement laws allowing evaluators to accept prices that are clearly unfair to Malawians” and “as such, the amendments we are making to the procurement regulations will also aim to fix this.

Sattar at the centre of the corruption probe

“The Bureau has found that some officials in the public procurement system who are not under investigation or suspected of corruption have nonetheless had challenges in following procurement procedures as laid down in the law.

“This means that a third driver of corruption in our country is a dysfunctional procurement system that is the result of procedures that are too cumbersome to follow and which public procurement officials lack the capacity to enforce.

“As such, the amendments we are making to the procurement regulations will also streamline and simplify the procedures, and in the months that follow, controlling officers of all Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies will be oriented to the new approach.”

The President reported that the ACB “has found that some public officers allegedly abused their offices either by intentionally flouting procurement procedures or by usurping procurement functions outside their mandate”, which “means that a fourth factor driving corruption is the unchecked abuse of public office in the public sector, which weakens controls designed to protect public resources”.

“As such, I call on the Office of the Ombudsman to attend to incidents of abuse of public office that arise from this investigation and take appropriate action according to law.

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“The Bureau has found that some public officers mandated to do due diligence and provide checks and balances allegedly neglected or failed to do so, including two former Attorneys General who issued letters clearing Mr. Sattar’s companies of any wrongdoing.

“This means that a fifth factor driving corruption is negligence of duty by some who are entrusted with protecting the public’s interest. As such, I have tasked the Secretary to the President and Cabinet to work with controlling officers of the MDAs where these acts of negligence are said to have taken place and take appropriate action to discipline wrongdoers and strengthen oversight mechanisms.”

Chakwera also told Malawians that the ACB furnished him with information that “a total of 53 public officers and former public officers allegedly received money from Mr. Sattar in the eight months between March 2021 and October 2021”.

“These public officers were specifically from Malawi Defence Force, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Malawi Revenue Authority, Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority, Office of the President and Cabinet, Office of the Vice-President, Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Homeland Security, Ministry of Lands, Ministry of Tourism, State House, Reserve Bank of Malawi, Financial Intelligence Authority, and even the Anti-Corruption Bureau itself.

“Additionally, the Bureau has found that another set of 31 individuals from the private sector, the media, civil society, and the legal fraternity also received money from Mr. Sattar during those eight months, bringing the total of those on the Bureau’s list to 84.

Appeal

“However, in its report, the Bureau has forbidden the publication of the full list by my office or the Bureau, saying that ‘due to the extremely complex nature of this investigation, the ACB is not in a position to release to the general public the whole list of the persons who allegedly received the bribes to allow for proper and full investigations to determine their culpability if any and to avoid prejudicing people who may otherwise be innocent’.

“I will tell you my view on the publication of the report shortly, but for now, I believe it is important for me to inform you that apart from the Vice-President, whose alleged involvement was already made public three weeks ago, no member of my Cabinet appears on the Bureau’s list of 84, nor does anyone currently working in the Office of the President and Cabinet.

“As for the list, the fact that the Bureau believes that it is possible that some people on its list may be innocent means that a sixth factor that drives corruption in Malawi is the accepted and common practice among Malawians of innocently asking for or accepting monetary assistance from affluent people whose source of wealth is obscure.

“As such, I have directed the Minister of Justice to work with my office in reviewing the Malawi Public Service Regulations and ensure that they are amended accordingly to require all public servants without exception to declare any gifts they receive above a certain value from businesspersons.

“My office will also work with the Office of Public Officers’ Declaration to enable that office to enforce this standard across all MDAs and remove any emerging conflicts of interests.”

On the 84 individuals whom the ACB found to be among the ones alleged to have received money from Sattar in 2021 and that there are 13 that “have been extensively investigated to the point of concluding that they conducted themselves corruptly in dealing” with the high corruption suspect, Chakwera revealed that “4 of the 13 hold offices over which I have some constitutional powers — namely the Vice-President, the IG, the Chief of Staff for State Residences, and the Chairperson of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority”.

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“First, the Bureau’s report states that it has recordings of telephone conversations between the Inspector General and Mr. Sattar, allegedly discussing procurement deals and kickbacks.

“The description of how the IG seems compromised is clear in the report, and so I have decided to remove him from office on that basis.

“Strangely, unlike its detailing of the IG’s apparent compromised conduct, the Bureau’s report contains no information or description of any kind regarding what exactly the Chief of Staff for State Residences and the Board Chairperson of the PPDA did in relation to the five contracts the Bureau has been investigating.

“The same applies to the Vice-President. The report states that the Bureau has concluded that he is among the 13 who conducted themselves corruptly in dealing with Mr. Sattar, and despite my appeal for the Bureau to produce a report of its findings about what these individuals did, the Bureau’s report provides no single piece of information about that, nor has the Bureau interviewed them or given an explanation for the omission of those critical details, which leaves me no more informed about their involvement today than I was three weeks ago.

“But, because the mentioning of their names in this report raises public suspicion, it is necessary for me to take measures to protect public trust in those offices. I have therefore decided to do so as follows:

* The Chief of Staff for State Residences is hereby suspended to pave way for the investigations without his interference; the Chairperson of the PPDA will similarly be excused from his official duties, and I have already instructed the Secretary to the President and Cabinet to do so using the appropriate legal instruments related to statutory bodies;

* And I have also directed her to work with the relevant service commissions to effect similar measures with respect to the other implicated public servants who do not report to me.”

Chakwera said he has “have taken these measures to address a seventh factor that drives corruption, namely the continuation of official public duties by those accused of wrongdoing by an independent institution like the Bureau”.

“But I must say that while I remain confident that the Bureau is critical to this fight, because of the glaring information gaps in its report, including the absence of any information about what the Bureau’s plan of action is, I consider the report to be an example of substandard work.

“And on a matter as serious and sensitive as this, Malawians deserve better,” he said.

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