Governance expert and human right activist Makhumbo Munthali has welcomed the decision by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to appeal the acquittal of former Cabinet minister George Chaponda following criticism from some civil society organisations (CSOs) that it presented a weaker case against the former minister.
Zomba chief resident magistrate Paul Chiotcha acquitted Chaponda and businessperson Rashid Tayub in corruption related charges over $34.5 million maize order from Zambia.
Chaponda was cleared on all three charges of giving false information to ACB, influencing a public officer to misuse his position and possession of foreign currency while Tayub was acquitted on the charge of persuading a public officer to misuse his position.
CSOs--Youth and Society (YAS), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep)--condemning the ACB and the court for alleged institutional incompetence in the fight against corruption.
They asked ACB to drop its "declaration of defeat" and genuinely side with the public interest by re-embarking on the matter with an appeal at High Court "in seeking recourse on this accountability matter of national importance."
ACB director general Reyneck Matemba announced on Tuesday that the bureau will file an appeal against the acquittal of Chaponda, who is also governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice-president for the Southern Region.
Commenting on ACB announcement, Munthali, formerly of Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said the appeal is welcome mindful of the fact that the public had registered dissatisfaction with the ruling by the lower court.
However, Munthali said the recent public outbursts by the ACB director directed at CSOs who were questioning the Bureau's failure to appeal and allegations that the State tacitly presented a weaker case to save Chaponda, some quarters would still think that graft-busting body is only "succumbing to public pressure in order to show that something was being done when in reality ACB already gave up on the case a long time ago even before the magistrate ruling."
He observed that the appealing to the High Court would just be another "window dressing" attempt aimed at appeasing both donors and the public- who have closely followed this high-profile case- that ACB was serious in its fight against corruption.
However, on the other hand the public pressure may indirectly force ACB to be more focused and submit a strong case against the former minister to secure a conviction so that it spruces up its image and restore public trust.
"Otherwise, it was careless and insensitive for ACB to immediately announce that it would not appeal after the magistrate's ruling when the public's expectation was that it would. Thanks to CSOs pressure on the same.
"But it would be interesting to see how ACB will be able to overcome political interference mindful of the fact that the elections are around the corner, and that the person the bureau intends to appeal against is such a powerful figure in the party and allegedly at the center of the party's leadership succession plan with some speculating that Mutharika would love to hand over power to him at the completion of his term," said Munthali.
In January 2017, President Peter Mutharika ordered an investigation into $34.5 million maize order from Zambia after a Zambian opposition leader Savior Chishimba said he had seen documents showing Malawi had been charged $345 per tonne instead of $245 a tonne.