Josephine Chinele

Malawi | Government in blame game over anti-corruption chief’s arrest

After last week’s suspicious arrest of Anti-Corruption Bureau director Martha Chizuma, the Government of Malawi has been playing a frantic blame game. Anxious not to be seen to be defending corruption, Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo swiftly suspended the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Steven Kayuni, whose original complaint had led to the arrest of Chizuma. Meanwhile both the Ministries of Justice and Constitutional Affairs as well as the Presidency put out preemptive statements to clarify that they had not been made aware of the impending arrest in advance.

Last week Mvalo told parliament that Chizuma had been released unconditionally and all charges against her dropped, while President Lazarus Chakwera announced a 12-member commission of inquiry tasked with investigating the arrest. A statement explained that the Commission would “investigate allegations of improper conduct, abuse of office and illegality surrounding or leading to the arrest of Director General of ACB and matters ancillary thereto”. President Chakwera has given the commission of inquiry two weeks to come up with a report. However, according to a police press statement, Chizuma still remains on police bail.

'This is a big embarrassment', says political analyst and University of Malawi lecturer Dr Mustapha Hussein. '(It shows) poor coordination and inefficiency in crucial governance institutions.' He added that the 'implications of actions (against the ACB) are costly. For instance, (Malawi’s) development partners would easily think that they have something to hide. Chizuma’s arrest has come at a time when the office is working on several high-profile cases,' he added.

Chizuma was arrested after the Director of Public Prosecutions, Steven Kayuni, complained that he had been ‘injured’ by allegations Chizuma made in a leaked audio clip. In the recording she can be heard speaking to an unknown man about several ongoing anti-corruption cases. The arrest was strongly condemned by the United States of America, Britain and the European Union, as well as a host of local civil society organisations.

Martha Chizuma’s lawyer, Martha Kaukonde, told ZAM in an interview on Thursday that she had not received any official notification about the withdrawal of charges. 'We wrote to the minister reminding him (that the charges must be withdrawn formally). We cannot take any other step apart from that. (…) (The minister) hasn’t yet responded’, she said.