Malawi president spares anti-corruption unit boss as leaked audio points to graft tussle

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Malawi's leader.Lazarus Chakwera.
Malawi's leader.Lazarus Chakwera.
Amos Gumulira, AFP
  • Leaked audio of the boss of Malawi's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) complaining has riled President Lazarus Chakwera.
  • The arrest of billionaire Malawian-British business tycoon Zuneth Sattar two months ago is at the centre of the corruption fight in the country.
  • Political analysts say Chakwera has sacred cows, and corruption buster Martha Chizuma's work has now been compromised.

Political analysts in Malawi say President Lazarus Chakwera's shock axing of his Cabinet is a result of his clash with the director-general of the country's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Martha Chizuma.

Leaked audio has seemingly exposed Chizuma's frustration with her work being undermined, as well as the depth of corruption in the legal system and allegations of state capture. 

READ | Malawian President dissolves cabinet on corruption row

Government sources in Malawi told News24 a meeting between Chakwera and Chizuma took place on Monday after weeks of speculation about how Chakwera would react to reports of massive corruption implicating billionaire Malawian-British business tycoon Zuneth Sattar.

Chizuma's ACB, in partnership with British investigators, arrested Sattar two months ago after a three-year investigation into corruption that spans three presidencies.

Top officials serving under former president Peter Mutharika and the current government were all said to have been implicated.

The meeting between the president and Chizuma took place on Monday morning following the leak of the audio file, in which a figure – believed to be Chizuma – expresses her frustration at the judiciary's handling of corruption cases. Chakwera described the comments in the audio as painful and embarrassing.

In the audio, Chizuma said the bureau had not been getting adequate support from Chakwera and that she understood she had lost support from State House over claims that she wanted to see the fall of the administration.

EXPLAINER | What's behind the protests rocking Malawi

She also alleged that some judges and lawyers were corrupt and discussed a case that the bureau was handling.

In a televised State of the Nation Address on Monday night, Chakwera said the audio "exposed" both Chizuma and the president "to embarrassment".

He added that he had always demonstrated a resolve to fight corruption by not interfering with ACB investigations.

He said he was open for questioning by the corruption body and would ensure that it was adequately funded.

Chakwera added:

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.

The president said several legal advisors had informed him that Chizuma's conduct in the audio recording contained information justifying her removal as ACB boss on the grounds of misconduct in terms of Section 6B (2) of the Corrupt Practices Act, 2019.

But he said he would not fire the corruption buster, who he described as a strong partner in fulfilling the promise of ending corruption.

"I have determined that the best thing to do in this instance is to keep a watchful eye on her general conduct in 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," said Chakwera.

He described the people who had recorded and leaked the audio as "evil forces" and said he and Chizuma were not moved by their efforts to derail his agenda to rid Malawi of corruption.

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

Political analyst George Phiri told News24 Chakwera's public lynching of Chizuma was unfortunate and uncalled for.

Phiri said:

What is clear is Chizuma has been whipped into line, and it is unfortunate that a whole president undresses an anti-corruption entity boss in public and expects her to do her duty diligently.

"He had held a meeting with her, and he was supposed to just state that the incident was one of those which need to be guarded against. Chizuma is now powerless, and this may confirm the fears that she (Chizuma) had targeted the Presidency in the Sattar investigation," he added.

Another political commentator Sylvester Ayuba James said the stage had been set for Chizuma's removal.

"Having done a critical discourse analysis of the president's speech, I am of the view that there is too much emphasis on Chizuma's misconduct, prompting one to fear that the First Citizen has deliberately created a platform for Chizuma's future removal," James said.

"We must remain very vigilant in observing how often members of the band, including the bandleader himself, make reference to this 'misconduct' in the future," he said.

According to James, "the truth still remains that Chizuma was operating in a very hostile environment in which she has to deal with a system that is contaminated by the very forces that she is investigating."

Chakwera dissolved his entire Cabinet on Monday and promised to appoint new members within two days.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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