Chizuma: Most torrid time at ACB

This week, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has been celebrating its silver jubilee. Here we argue that the term of office of the incumbent director general (DG) of the graft-busting body has been the most torrid time for the bureau since its establishment in 1998.

During the 25 years the bureau has been in existence, it has registered and processed 36 878 cases, closed or referred to other institutions 26 210 cases or 71 percent of them. It recommended 20 615 or 29 percent of the cases for investigations. The highest number of completed cases was achieved between 2004 and 2014, when 4 314 cases were completed, with 1 308 recommended for prosecution. 

A further 425 corruption cases were successfully prosecuted and completed in various courts across the country between 2004 and 2023. Of this figure, 158 or 37 percent were convictions, 97 cases, representing 22 percent were acquittals, while 40 cases or nine percent were discharges or withdrawals. Thirty cases, or seven percent, were civil matters, 96, or 23 percent were closures and seven of them were referrals.

These are good statistics as they give readers a rough idea about what the bureau has been doing (or failed to do) since it was established. But the critical question that still has to be answered from these statistics is: Do they tell us whether or not the bureau has delivered on its mandate?

The bureau’s mission is to spearhead the fight against corruption in Malawi through prevention, education and law enforcement.

But the question comes again: Has the bureau delivered on its mandate?

I do not have a straightforward answer. How best then should the bureau’s performance be evaluated?

I think something closer to what would be a fair way of assessing the bureau’s performance is to look at what has been happening at the bureau during successive presidential tenures. Such issues would include how well the bureau has been funded by each administration, how much independence and political support each successive regime has given the bureau to enable it to discharge its duties according to its mandate.

The first ACB director general was Gilton Chiwaula an accountant by profession (1998—2004) who, I would say, enjoyed a fairy good time at the bureau.

One would think that the bureau was still in its formative years and authorities were still learning how best to run an effective graft-busting body. Next was Gustave Kaliwo (2004-2006). He resigned as ACB boss after he allegedly ordered the arrest of former president Bakili Muluzi without the blessings or knowledge of president Bingu wa Mutharika. The late Tumalisye Ndovi (2006—2007) briefly headed the bureau but he was rejected by the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament. This was the same period Parliament was fraught with the ‘Section 65 number one, Budget Number 2’ debacle. Alexious Nampota (2007—2012) who had previously deputised Chiwaula also had a fairly quiet time at the bureau. And so did Justice Rezine Mzikamanda (2012—2014). Lucas Kondowe, another accountant (2014—2017). He left after his contract expired. Reyneck Matemba (2017—2020). He earlier served as acting ACB director general. Matemba presided over the prosecution of most Cashgate cases with private practice prosecutor Kamudoni Nyasulu as the consultant prosecutor. Martha Chizuma the incumbent from 2021 to date.

Suffice to say all these DGs—from Kaliwo to Chizuma—handled the K1.7 billion Muluzi case before it was dropped earlier this year. I want to argue that the most visible form of gagging the bureau from 1998 to 2020 was underfunding the entity. But under the Tonse Alliance administration, without giving figures, funding for ACB improved considerably. But the graft-busting body has gone through other problems. 

Needless to say that it is Chizuma who has had the most torrid time as ACB DG. Appointed by President Lazarus Chakwera in April 2021, the former Ombudsman immediately launched investigations of bribery and procurement which riled the establishment and saw her arrested on trumped-up charge and then improperly removed her from office before she was reinstated. Government has been trying in stopping her from investigating top politicians and their links to a British-Malawian businessperson Zuneth Sattar. Her three-year contract expires in April next year. Will it be renewed?

So, if we are to assess how government has handled the bureau since it was established, Chizuma’s term of office has been the most horrible one for ACB.

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