Malawi Police suspends interview session with ACB’ Martha Chizuma after reports of demonstrations against it

Iron Lady Martha Chizuma

* The MPS was ordered by Mzuzu Senior Magistrate Court on April 7, 2022 following an application by Frighton Mphompho

* The MPS is bound by law and committed to comply with court orders

* The UDF has distanced itself from Mphompho’s action and has since suspended the party’s District Governor for Chikwawa

* Reports indicate that Mphompho acted on behalf comedian-turned political activist, Bon Kalindo

By Duncan Mlanjira

The Malawi Police Service (MPS) has canceled an interview session it planned to engage the Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General Martha Chizuma that it announced on Thursday (April 21) to be held today (Friday) in relation to a court order.

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The Mzuzu Court Senior Resident Magistrate, Godfrey Gondwe ordered on April 7 that within 90 days, the MPS and Director of Public Prosecutions must furnish the Court a report into the leaked audio involving Chizuma which is alleged to have violated the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) by revealing to a third party information on a case the bureau was investigating.

A statement from national police deputy public relations officer, Inspector Harry Namwaza, says the MPS was ordered by Mzuzu Senior Magistrate Court on April 7, 2022 following an application by Frighton Mphompho.

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But 24 hours later, the police issued another statement, suspending the interview after reports that “some citizens are mobilizing to demonstrate against police for complying with the court order to interview [Chizuma] as a person of interest in a matter about which the court needs to establish facts”.

“The right to demonstrate is a sacred and enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and so the MPS is bound by law and committed to the protection of any citizen who wishes to exercise that right, just as the MPS is bound by law and committed to comply with court orders.

“Notwithstanding, the MPS recognizes its responsibility to ensure that it conducts its operations and carries out its Constitutional mandate in a transparent manner so that the public is protected from misinformation about its actions or motivations.”

The police further says they will hold a press conference at National Police Headquarters on Monday, April 25 at 10am “to attend to all public questions or concerns regarding the court case and ally any fears generated by its misrepresentation and politicization in the media”.

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“In the meantime, to create room for the building of public trust in the processes, the MPS follows — in compliance with court orders — the summon to interview Ms. Chizuma is suspended until further notice.”

Meanwhile, the United Democratic Front (UDF) has distanced itself from Mphompho’s action and has since suspended the party’s District Governor for Chikwawa as regards to the court case against Chizuma that is connected to a leaked audio she had with an unnamed individual in which the director general divulged information contrary to her oath of secrecy

Through the UDF acting publicity secretary, Yusuf Mwawa issued on Wednesday, the party says it “learnt with surprise from socia media outlets” that Mphompho “is implicated in issues surrounding a court case at the Mzuzu Magistrate Court” against Chizuma.

“The IDF is dismayed with his alleged involvement in this case as his alleged actions are serious and that bring the party into disrepute by virtue of his position as UDF district governor.

“Mr Mphompho is alleged to have acted in his personal capacity and his alleged actions do not represent the views of the party in this matter,” however the “UDF supports the fight against corruption and the party was instrumental in the establishment of key governance and accountability such as the ACB over two decades ago.

“The party is also on record as having supported the appointment of Ms. Martha Chizuma as Director of the ACB” as well as publicly calling for all stakeholders to support her “in the ongoing efforts by certain quarters to compromise the ACB in an attempt to obstruct the course of justice.”

In view of the “alleged serious misconduct” by Mphompho, the UDF says it has suspended him “from his position as district governor with immediate effect [and he] will be accorded the right to be heard before the party disciplinary committee”.

Reports indicate that Mphompho acted on behalf comedian-turned political activist, Bon Kalindo — who issued a seven-day ultimatum to President Lazarus Chakwera to fire Chizuma, failing which he threatened nationwide demonstrations.

As soon as the Mzuzu Magistrate Court granted Mphompho’s petition a hearing, Kalindo said people must not twist the issue by indicating Chizuma is being targeted but said there is need to look at the integrity of the holder of that office.

Kalindo at the centre of it

After the fiasco over the leaked audio in January, President Chakwera — who was under pressure by the public to fire Chizuma for breaching her Oath of Office saying this was a serious misconduct — announced that he decided to maintain her because she is “a person of great courage” in the fight against corruption.

In his national address, the President reiterated that he appointed Chizuma because she has “the kind of courage needed to take on dangerous cartels of corruption that have milked our country dry for decades, including foreign ones that donate to us the crumbs leftover from the bread they steal from us”.

Chakwera announced that he had held a meeting with Chizuma in the company of Minister of Justice, Titus Mvalo in pursuant to Section 4(4) of the Corrupt Practices Act, which requires the ACB Director General to report to the President and the Minister on the general conduct of the affairs of the Bureau.

“Among the things tabled at this meeting was an audio recording of a conversation between Ms. Chizuma and another person, which Ms. Chizuma has confirmed to be an authentic recording of a conversation she has acknowledged to me and the Minister to constitute misconduct on her part.”

President Chakwera

But Kalindo still maintains that Chakwera should fire Chizuma, telling the media that the President “is weak and very indecisive on matter that boarder corruption”.

He added: “We saw it with Covid-19 funds which were abused big time; we saw it on Cabinet reshuffle and we are seeing it again with Martha Chizuma.

“Chizuma has no respect for the President unfortunately, she is compromising our sovereignty and national security by collaborating with the imperialists who still want to rule and control us with the help of traitors.

“This is why any good meaning Malawian including myself back the case in Mzuzu Court,” Kalindo said in his audio clip that accuses Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Chilima of failing to uphold rule of law, especially on the issue of the ACB director whose leaked audio has been sanctioned to be under investigation by court.

“Some people think when we do this, we are against the [ACB] director’s quest to fight corruption but no, this issue in not about corruption, this is about integrity and violation of the oath of secrecy.

“Chizuma is not untouchable, she is there to protect the law and if the court has given a go ahead for investigations into the audio to commence, then if she is a person of integrity she must step aside to allow the due legal process to take place,” Kalindo said.

The ACB is working in collaboration with the British National Crimes Agency (NCA) in sharing state security and intelligence matters which other analysts suspect it is being done without authorisation from the Attorney General’s office.

Chizuma is alleged to have facilitated the British investigators on her own judgement to visit the country to collect data, carry out intelligence surveillance and interrogate corruption suspect, Ashok Nair — who is involved in the corruption probe together with Zuneith Sattar and other business associates.

In sparing her, Chakwera took cognizance that understandably, the recording sparked public debate about whether or not Chizuma breached her Oath of Office and whether or not she compromised the credibility of the Bureau and the security of its investigations and whether or not she violated the same Corrupt Practices Act she was appointed to enforce.

He had acknowledged that the hot debate on her actions was healthy, because “Chizuma’s conduct, or the conduct of any public servant in a public office, is neither infallible nor beyond scrutiny nor above the law.”

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“Now since the conduct of any ACB Director is regulated by law, there are several legal minds who have told me that the audio recording

contains information justifying Ms. Chizuma’s removal as Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau on the grounds of misconduct in terms of Section 6B (2) of the Corrupt Practices Act, 2019.

“But upon consideration of multiple factors, I have determined that the best thing to do in this instance is to keep a watchful eye on her general conduct of the Bureau’s affairs in order to ensure that there are no other incidents of concern about her fitness for office going forward.

“As such, I have given her a stern warning about what the law demands and what I expect from her as the person I appointed to that office.”

In as much as Chizuma’s conduct in this unfortunate incident has been disappointing, Chakwera thus stated why he appointed her to head the ACB in the first place and why she has reaffirmed to that position with a warning.

“I appointed her because I considered her to be a person of great integrity, the kind of integrity needed to resist every inducement that would be thrown her way to compromise her. I appointed her because I considered her to be a person of great strength, the kind of strength needed to keep fighting for justice even when it looks hopeless and dark.

Sattar at the centre of the corruption probe

“I appointed her because I considered her to be a person of great vision, the kind of vision to see the whole edifice of corrupt activities and see how best to dismantle it. I appointed her because I considered her to be a person of great experience, the kind of experience she had as the Ombudsman, where she proved herself to be a warrior for justice.

“And I appointed her because I considered her to be a member of the team of warriors for justice I have been building to serve Malawians.

This is what I believed about Ms. Chizuma at that time, and this is what I believe about her today.”

The President went on to say that ever since he appointed her, he has found her to be a strong partner in fulfilling the promise of ending corruption that he himself made to Malawians, “which is the fourth pillar of my SUPER Hi5 agenda”.

“I believe that it is because of her resolve to fight corruption that corruption has fought back and used someone she trusted to betray her and expose both her and me to embarrassment. I therefore want those evil forces that recorded her to know that neither I nor Ms. Chizuma are moved by their efforts to derail my agenda to rid Malawi of corruption.

“If you thought that making this recording would force me to fire her, you better think again. And if you thought that you can use Ms. Chizuma’s work or improper comments on that audio to attack me and get me out of the way, you better think again.

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“You may have gotten to the ACB Director this time, but you can never get to all of us who are fighting this fight in different parts of the government. We will never retreat and we will never relent.

“As Martha Chizuma says on that audio, Nkhondo iyiyi ndi ya tonse, ndipo tiwina — my resolve to win this fight is the reason why I and many Malawians stood by her to see that Parliament confirmed her after she was initially rejected by its Public Appointments Committee.

“My resolve to win this fight is the reason why I have never once interfered with ACB investigations, including those into the conduct of my own Ministers. My resolve to win this fight is the reason

why even I myself have cooperated with ACB investigations by subjecting myself to questioning by its officers, which no sitting Head of State has ever done in this country.

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“My resolve to win this fight is the reason why in all my public and private statements about the ACB, I have been the most vocal advocate against corruption and supporter of its work.

“My resolve to win this fight is the reason why I have fought many forces to ensure that the Bureau is fully funded and its Chief is well-protected.

“I must therefore confess that because of how vested I am in the fight against corruption, listening to some of the remarks Ms. Chizuma makes on that recording was painful.

“But because I took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and pledged to work only in the best interest of Malawian, I have chosen to put Malawi first,” Chakwera said.