A corruption scandal smoulders in Malawi, as Pres Chakwera fires cabinet

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President of Republic of Malawi, Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, Lameck LaLuh Luhanga,2017, Malawi:CREDIT: LaLuh Luhanga
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Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera came to power promising to tackle corruption. But his handling of a deepening corruption scandal of state capture proportion dating back to three of his predecessors, is threatening to undo his own presidency.

A UK based businessman, Zuneth Sattar, 41, is accused of bribing several government officials for over a decade in order to obtain hefty contracts in Malawi government. Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) have launched an investigation into Sattar’s alleged state capture and one cabinet minister, Kezzie Msukwa was arrested recently by the ACB.

The president, who previously fired two ministers who were embroiled in corruption or abuse of office, failed to fire Msukwa from his cabinet for over three weeks after he was arrested. In turn, this prompted an angry rebuke from an array of influential actors, including the church, civil society and members of general public.

On Monday evening, Mr Chakwera—a former charismatic Christian pastor turned president—snapped into action, dissolving his cabinet. He simultaneously launched a scathing attack on Ms Chizuma, the popular anti-graft czar, for allegedly breaking her oath of office. This followed the widespread circulation of a recording in which Ms. Chizuma was heard commenting on issues surrounding the Sattar investigation with unknown third party, embarrassing the president.  

In the recording, Ms. Chizuma complains of lack of support from the executive, accused some judges of receiving bribes from Sattar, and suggests that influential churches cherry-pick who to criticise for being embroiled in corruption on the basis of their church affiliation. 

The president said he was hurt by the recording but also said that he has no plans to axe Ms. Chizuma, despite pressure to do so within his own administration. It later turned out that the president had wanted to fire Chizuma until he had a last minute change of heart – perhaps inspired by concern at how the international donor community would respond to such a move. In a bizarre mistake that has damaged his credibility, the president’s office incorrectly circulated a speech that had been prepared which announced Chizuma’s suspension pending a review of her suitability for the office.

Chakwera pledged to hire new cabinet by Wednesday. Past midnight, he released a partial 12-member cabinet, without naming the powerful Foreign Affairs, Finance and Homeland Security Ministers, among others. Many will welcome the political changes, and the retention of Chizuma as anti-graft czar, but will be concerned about whether the president has a long-term plan to transform the country’s political dynamics, and the deterioration of his relationship with those whose job it is to get a grip of Malawi’s corruption challenges.

Golden Matonga (@goldenmatonga) is a journalist working as an investigative journalist and columnist for Malawi’s Nation Publications Limited.

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