Malawi coalition govt teetering on brink of collapse as it grapples corruption

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Malawi's leader Lazarus Chakwera.
Malawi's leader Lazarus Chakwera.
Amos Gumulira, AFP
  • Lazarus Chakwera's sanctioning of his coalition partner could see him become a single term president.
  • An Afrobarometer poll says the majority of Malawians feel Chakwera's government has failed to deal with corruption.
  • Zuneth Sattar, the central suspect in a state capture investigation, allegedly paid 84 individuals and received R2.4 billion in contracts over five years.

By limiting his vice president's powers, firing the police boss, and suspending numerous senior government officials implicated in corruption charges, Malawi's president Lazarus Chakwera's actions could spell the end for the Tonse Alliance of 2020 which brought him to power.

If the coalition collapsed, Chakwera would be setting himself up as a "single term" president, said political analysts in Malawi.

On Tuesday night, Chakwera announced that he had suspended the "delegated duties" of his deputy Saulos Klaus Chilima.

Vice president Chilima is the leader of the United Transformation Movement (UTM) political party. Because of the coalition arrangement, Chakwera said he could not fire him, but that he would curtail his powers.

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"As for the vice president, his office is unique, in that the constitution does not provide for his suspension or removal from it by the president because he holds that office by the will of Malawian voters which I respect.

"As such, the best I can do for now, which is what I have decided to do, is to withhold from his office any delegated duties," he said in a televised address.

Chilima is the highest-ranking official alongside the inspector-general of police George Kainja and Prince Kapondamgaga, the state house chief of staff, and John Suzi Banda, the chairperson for the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority, to be suspended on allegations of receiving kickbacks from UK-based businessman Zuneth Sattar in exchange for government contracts.

"It's tense. The alliance has since last year been berated for its failure to deliver particularly on the corruption promise and suddenly one of its principals becomes the face of a corruption investigation.

"His supporters feel Chakwera will make him the fall guy and taint him. The alliance won't survive this," said political analyst James Phiri.

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He added that the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) was already considering the possibility of contesting the 2025 elections on its own.

The coalition of governing parties in Malawi was made up of Chakwera's Malawi Congress Party and Chilima's UTM, which was joined by seven smaller parties. 

Theirs has been a marriage of convenience and for some time now, the Big Two (as the MCP and UTM are referred to) had not been working well together.

Corruption fight

According to Afrobarometer's latest report on Malawi, "a majority of Malawians say that corruption is increasing and that the government is performing poorly in dealing with the vice. Most want strong sanctions against cabinet ministers and businesses associated with corruption".

The Episcopal Conference of Malawi released a pastoral letter pointing at "weak and indecisive leadership", and "plunder of public resources, patronage and impunity" as some of the problems in the Tonse Alliance administration.

For journalists, holding public officials accountable has been a thorny issue in Malawi. In March, Malawian journalist Vitus-Gregory Gondwe was arrested for refusing to disclose sources relating to a story published on his Platform for Investigative Journalism.

His story touched on police boss Kainja, who had also been suspended by Chakwera. The report alleged that Kainja was in Sattar's pocket.

"I feel vindicated and investigative journalism has once again won. Of course, this is just the beginning as the prosecution of these cases has not started in earnest.

"There is a need to do more in terms of transparency where time and again those in authority should come clean to explain the source of their wealth.

"Still, in Chakwera's government, there are several ministers who have become instant millionaires overnight and there is an unwillingness on the government side to carry out lifestyle audits. Which could be a huge step toward addressing corruption in my country," said Gondwe.

At the centre of Malawi's corruption busting efforts is the Anti-Corruption Bureau director-general Martha Chizuma.

In January, Chakwera and Chizuma clashed over the latter's frustration with alleged corruption in the legal system and allegations of state capture that affected her work.

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In the past, Chakwera was accused of failing to deal with corruption decisively until he shockingly dissolved the cabinet over the members' links to Sattar after his meeting with Chizuma.

For his part, Chakwera had been accused of nepotism after he hired his relatives into government jobs, particularly his daughter and son-in-law.

Zuneth Sattar

In May, Sattar, the Malawian-born British businessman, was refused permission to leave the UK.

He was arrested by the UK's National Crime Agency in October 2021, based on Chizuma's report on how he was alleged to have unlawfully landed government contracts.

He is yet to be charged.

Sattar, according to British court records, was allegedly behind demonstrations in Malawi against Chizuma.

Members of Concerned Citizens in Lilongwe on 26 May marched to the offices of the Anti-Corruption Bureau calling for Chizuma's removal.

According to Chakwera, during his address on Tuesday night, 84 individuals were on Sattar's list and were alleged to have received funds from the corruption suspect.

Chakwera added that over a period of five years, including years before he came into power in 2020, Malawi had paid about R2.4 billion (about $150 million) to companies belonging to Sattar.

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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