Anti-Graft War and the Travails of Malawian Vice President

Anti-Graft War and the Travails of Malawian Vice President (News Central TV)

When Malawi’s vice president Saulos Klaus Chilima was released on bail late last week, the man who usually had more than a couple of sentences to say to any gathering shared just a few, much to the disappointment of the prying media.

“I have no comment to make. We will let the court process run” were the few words Chilima said to the media as he left his bail hearing at a court in Malawi according to local media reports.

The country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau last week arrested Chilima and charged him for his involvement in the gifts-for-contract scandal sweeping over the country. The vice president is facing three counts of corrupt practices by a public officer, two counts of receiving an advantage for using influence in regard to contracts, and one count of failing to make a full report to a police officer or an officer of the Anti-Corruption Bureau that an advantage had been corruptly given.

The estranged vice president is accused of accepting at least $280000 and other gifts in exchange for government contracts in a scandal that has seen President Chakwera dissolve his cabinet and relieve the activities of his number two man despite not having the constitutional power to fire Chilima.

Lecturer at the University of Malawi, Alexious Kamangira on Village Square Africa said “Malawians are looking forward to an independent process not only by the anti-corruption bureau but as also the courts that are going to be handling this case.”

Back in June when the accusations against Chilima first came to light the 49-year-old denied any wrongdoing- a position that resonated with his supporters who picketed at his home thereby preventing the national corruption watchdog from originally picking up Chilima for questioning.

That event has been speculated as the reason for the five-month delay in arresting Chilima but Kamangira says it is more likely because investigators must have been gathering probable cause.

“The bureau might have been taking time to investigate to be ready,” Kamangira said. He added that due to the nature of the case and the status of the person involved, the bureau may have waited to act “only if they feel they have got enough evidence” to issue an arrest. Kamangira also makes room for the idea that the government may be under pressure to act against corruption.

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Meanwhile, executive director of Malawian Watch Billy Banda says the actions of the ACB leave much to be desired. He explained, “Malawi as a country is not fairing well in curbing or fighting corruption because there’s a lot of money that plays a crucial role in trying to win the hearts of others so that they can fight.”

Embattled Malawi Vice-President Participates in Charity Golf Tournament (News Central TV)
Malawi’s re-instated Vice President, Saulos Chilima, speaks at a press conference at his private residence in Lilongwe on February 5, 2020 following the Lilongwe Constitutional Court’s decision on February 3, 2020, to nullify presidential results of the May 21, 2019, Tripartite Elections. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP) (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images)

To what extent Chilima is involved in this corruption scandal remains hazy and hard to tell at this point. The ACB’s statement announcing his arrest threw little to no light on that except informing the Malawian public that the veep’s activities took place between March to October 2021 during which Chilima is accused of accepting the gifts and in return influenced the award of contract to Malachite FZE and Xavier Limited.

These firms are linked to Malawian-born British businessman Zuneth Sattar who is under investigation in the UK over his dealings with the Malawian government. It is not known yet if the UK investigations and the local ACB investigations are linked in any way or form. Meanwhile, very little is known about the nature of the contracts in question.

While questions remain as to the extent of the role of Chilima in this scandal, Malawians on social media want justice to be served if the veep and 53 others caught in this web of corruption scandal are found guilty. Already, Chakwera dissolved his cabinet at the beginning of the year in response to the accusations against government officials including the energy minister and presidential advisor but Malawians want the southeastern country to be put first when the dust settles, and for good reason too.

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Malawi has seen its fair share of high-level corruption scandals plaguing different administrations leaving some critics to wonder if the vice president’s alleged involvement is not politically motivated. Governance in Malawi is characterized by a rift between vice presidents and their bosses since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in the early 90s.

In Banda’s opinion president Chakwera unlike the embattled vice president has shown very little commitment to the fight against corruption. However, to understand those who think the Veep’s predicament now could be politically motivated, you’ll first have to look back at the beginning of multiparty democracy in Malawi. Nonetheless, Kamangira disagrees. He cannot believe that the ACB will act on orders and not because they possess evidence to the effect adding that people will only be justified if it appears those fingered are only members of the Chilima’s United Transformation Movement (UTM)party.

Back in 2013, then-president Joyce Banda while abroad was plagued by the Cashgate Scandal forcing her to cut short her trip to tackle the scandal that was threatening to take down her government. Like Chakwera, she too dissolved her cabinet. The Cashgate Scandal involved officials who looted and transferred state funds from government accounts into private ones under the guise of paying for goods and services. Some of the looted cash was discovered in the homes and cars of public officials and in the aftermath, the country’s budget director Raphael Kasambarawho had only been in office four months prior was assassinated.

However, the president-veep fallouts go as far back as 1994 when Bakili Muluzi was president. In his time, he refused to run alongside his vice president when he sought a third term in office. This set the tone for the relationship that persists in the executive arm of government today.

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The ‘ascension-to-power curse’ that has engulfed Vice President Chilima and President Chakwera stems from comments both have passed in public indicating a variance to an earlier agreement among members of the Tonse Alliance.

The Tonse Alliance was formed by about nine political parties as a strategic political move that saw the duo ascend to the executive office after the 2020 election rerun with Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party and Chilima’s UTM being the largest parties in the alliance.

The agreement was to hand over the baton to Chilima for the 2025 elections and in the near future thereafter. However, that agreement seems to be falling through as the 2025 elections draw near. While there has been no official comment on this, speculations are rife that Chakwera’s MCP is considering running solo with Chakwera as its leader.

Since the alliance was formed, they have had no impact on the growth of the country according to Banda who suggested the alliance was only useful in winning the 2020 rerun elections.

Meanwhile, Alliance member parties have been meeting since the arrest of Chilima and according to local media, they have been reassuring the Malawian public that the members are taking the events seriously and that the alliance is still strong.

Whether or not the alliance survives this period, Malawians with their myriad of problems are not looking forward to adding a few more as the latest corruption scandal divides the political elites and their supporters. Kangamira reminded Malawians that fighting corruption is a collective effort and not the problem of only a few individuals.

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