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Public protector on mission to clean up government in Malawi3 minutes read

Her journey has taken her to the front lines of the war against misgovernment and impunity

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Public protector on mission to clean up government in Malawi

The battle against corruption in the southern African state of Malawi has turned a shy, diminutive ombudswoman, Martha Chizuma, into a popular icon.

The quietly confident former magistrate and registrar of the High Court, appointed public protector in December 2015 when she was only 36, is the youngest person and only the second woman to hold the office.

“There have been moments when you have had those you are dealing with or investigating looking down on me because of my age and gender,” the bespectacled mother of three told reporters. 

“Whenever I am confronted with such people, I find myself feeling sorry for them, because in this day and age where you have females and young people literally transforming the world for the better, their attitude means that they have nothing else to offer besides their bigotry,” she said.

Read Also: How Malawi’s busker is fighting myths about albinism

Malawi's Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma poses during an interview
People walk in front of the main entrance of Malawi’s Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma’s office in Lilongwe on September 9, 2019. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Chizuma’s journey has taken her to the front lines of the war against misgovernment and impunity that is rampant in Malawi. “I have always argued that maladministration, coupled with the attendant impunity, is the soil, fertiliser and the rain on which foundations or systems of corruption are built,” she said.

‘Tractorgate’

Chizuma has uncovered a range of abuses. In August, one of her probes revealed that 160 women had their uteruses removed between January and July 2018 because of negligence. Another inquiry found that around 250 pieces of archaic farm equipment were bought and abandoned following a $50 million (45 million euro) loan from India in 2011.

The scam, dubbed “Tractorgate”, led the government to sell all the equipment, including 177 Sonalika tractors, to private individuals and farmers at below their purchase price. Although no one has been prosecuted, the ombudswoman has already obtained a rare public apology from the agriculture ministry.

“Every time I have used the law to bring about justice to anyone who has been ill-treated by the government system it is a point of pride for me,” Chizuma said.

Read Also: Ramaphosa challenges graft report as ‘irretrievably flawed’

Smear campaign

But her successes have sparked threats and a smear campaign starring her as corrupt, allegations that she has defiantly rejected. Chizuma’s office, fully reliant on government funds, has also seen its budget slashed this year.

Government spokesman Mark Botoman warned Chizuma against “abusing” her position, warning that any ombudsman should be “accountable to the people and to the law.” Chizuma has been widely praised for her courage.

Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the largest opposition Malawi Congress Party, told AFP that she would go down in history as “one of the shining lights of integrity on top of a hill in whose valleys remain the dark shadows of institutional corruption and impunity across the public sector”.

Malawi's Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma poses during an interview
Malawi’s Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma works at her desk before giving an interview with Agence France-Presse in her office in Lilongwe, Malawi, on September 9, 2019. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Chizuma’s strength is her “knowledge and understanding of the law… and making decisions that are in the best interest of the public,” said Martha Kaukonde, honorary secretary of the Malawi Law Society.

“She has mimicked the same ruthless efficiency and determination of Thuli Madonsela, her former South African counterpart who is lauded for her successful tenure famous for prosecuting abuse of power under then-president Jacob Zuma,” Golden Matonga, a blogger and investigative journalist, said.

In recognition of her tenacity, Chizuma was elected a director of the International Ombudsman Institute. She also serves as the treasurer-general of the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association.

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UN condemns use of IEDs against civilians in Libya

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians…,” the UN said.

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A man inspects the wreckage of a car outside the Khadra General Hospital which is dedicated to treating people infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Libyan capital Tripoli on April 8, 2020, after it was targeted by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned the use of improvised explosive devices against civilians in the southern part of Tripoli, as the armed conflict between the east-based army and the UN-backed government continues.

UNSMIL “is extremely concerned about reports that residents of the Ain Zara and Salahuddin areas of Tripoli have been killed or wounded by improvised explosive devices placed in or near their homes,” UNSMIL said in a statement Monday.

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians who must be protected under international humanitarian law,” the statement said.

UNSMIL called on all individuals to “seek information and heed security advice to stay away from areas that have not been declared safe to enter by a competent authority or items of unknown origin which may be explosive devices”.

UNSMIL also commended the search and clearance work by Libyan Police and Military Engineers, reaffirming its continued support to Libyan partners, communities, and stakeholders “who are working tirelessly to rid Libya of the threat of explosive remnant of war (ERW)”.

The UN-backed government’s forces accused the rival east-based army of planting mines before withdrawing from conflict areas in southern Tripoli.

Since April 2019, the east-based army has been leading a military campaign attempting to take over Tripoli and topple the UN-backed government.

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Strike looms as public sector wage dispute enters arbitration in South Africa

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The ongoing face-off between workers in the public sector and the South African government continues. According to the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), disagreement between the trade unions and government has moved the talks to arbitration for further hearing.

PSCBC General Secretary, Frikkie De Bruin explains that the arbitration hearings will begin by mid-June. An arbitrator will issue an award after the hearings are complete, with the matter potentially heading to court or resulting in a strike if the unions aren’t happy.

Ordinarily, public sector workers make up a third of South Africa’s expenditure. But with the coronavirus lockdown and income reduction, Pretoria seems unwilling to incur more debt.

If not handled carefully to appease the workers, the ruling African National Congress, (ANC) could lose its political dominance in the next local elections.

If no resolution is reached and the workers decide to resolve it an industrial action, it could erode all effort made by the government in the fight against the coronavirus.

The dispute started in February when the government affirmed that it could not fulfil its 2018 agreement on a three-year wage agreement.

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Ethiopia to divest 40% of Ethio Telecom

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The Ethiopian government is finalizing plans to sell a 40 percent stake in Ethio Telecom- the country’s sole telecommunication provider . The plan was announced by Ethiopia’s State Minister of Finance, Eyob Tekalign Tolina.

Ethiopia’s telecommunication industry is considered one of the last closed markets. It has been one of the government’s plans to liberalize the country’s economy launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethio Telecom has a large market serving a population of around 110 million.

The government will retain ownership of the remaining 60 percent.

Foreign firms in the telecom sector will be invited to bid and a percentage of the minority stake will be sold to Ethiopian citizens. South Africa’s MTN and Kenya’s Safaricom have shown interest in expanding into Ethiopia in the past.

Ethiopia’s communications regulator says the country would proceed with the privatisation of the telecommunications sector despite the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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