Those that are sympathising with former president Bakili Muluzi and claiming that the recent Constitutional Court’s decision that his 1.4 billion Kwacha corruption case needs to go to trial is nothing but persecution of the former president need to have their heads examined. Surely this is just a cheap shot at trying to gain favour with the veteran political manipulator, probably in hopes that he can help them gain some needed political mileage, as a general election looms large?
What should be more embarrassing to every patriotic Malawian is the appalling fact that this very clear cut case of corruption has been allowed to drag for so long, that it has been used politically by various administration since the administration of late Bingu wa Mutharika when the matter commenced, and that the judiciary has been so patient with Muluzi’s shenanigans to try and defeat the course of justice over this matter.
Over the last decade, Malawian society has come to see the extent to which corruption has damaged the country’s welfare and stability. In spite of various administrations, the private sector, and civil society alike all consequently declaring the fight against bribery and corruption a priority in their overall endeavour and politics, the scourge continues to get worse.
Of serious concerns to analysts is the fact that the prosecution of high profile personalities for corruption is a particularly difficult endeavour and successes are still too rare. We have all seen the difficulties and how the ACB seems invariably hamstrung when an investigation involves prominent politicians and wealthy businessmen, or when it involves international bribery cases that require assistance from foreign jurisdictions in collecting evidence.
With these problems all so well documented, how can we then be sympathising with Former President Muluzi and scolding the ACB for at least sticking to their task this time around and not allowing itself to be fatigued and discouraged by the clever delay tactics employed by Muluzi’s lawyers?
According to a fundamental democratic tenet, everyone is equal under the law. This noble principle, however, does not do much to help police or prosecutors act effectively when corruption the suspect is a prominent politician. The success rate of prosecutions against senior government officials and wealthy corporate executive officers in this country is still low. This actually is true throughout the world and even in countries that have enacted comprehensive anti- corruption legislation and have otherwise well- functioning institutions at their disposal.
In Malawi, the lack of success in corruption cases is caused by many factors: an institutional framework that is often unsuitable for coping with the specific complexity of the crimes, the need to find a balance between the defendant’s rights and prosecution, the impact of public interest, and the institutional and psychological pressures these entail.
When the limited resources of the ACB are pitted against rich defendants such as Muluzi, who can hire the support of skilled lawyers and utilize lengthy applications, processes, and other stalling tactics to wear down public opinion, the result is what we are seeing now. We now have a public that has lost sight of Muluzi’s alleged crimes and in its expectation of quick results thinks that the delay in the conclusion of the case is persecution of the defendant and is all the fault of the government.
Sober-minded Malawians need to support the efforts being made to bring top politicians to book with regard to corruption- no matter how long this may take. It must be understood that a powerful politician under judicial scrutiny can use his influence to intentionally weaken a sound legislative framework even during sometimes lengthy investigations.
The prominence of the defendant comes into play even during the trial, especially when the case is heard before our sometimes-weak judges. Sometimes, our judges display seemingly “fearful” tendencies to be pro-defendant, and are often especially sympathetic toward the more powerful and politically or economically successful defendants.
In the case of Bakili Muluzi, Malawians need to appreciate the role politics has played in the matter. We have all seen how Bakili Muluzi’s son Atupele has been readily willing to join whatever government is in power at any given point. In spite of the various reasons he has given to justify his unprincipled politicking, it is justifiable to speculate that the main underlying factor in these decisions has been to ensure that his father is protected from prosecution. It makes sense that being a cabinet minister, he would be privy to the government inner workings and be influential enough to deflect some moves that the government might wish to make regarding this case. This is just logical. Public figures and political parties in Malawi seem to have special powers, particularly among the public institutions, which are all under their control. They use these powers to prevent aggressive and efficient prosecutions of supporters and cronies. It also seems in Malawi that even the judges do not always have enough independence vis-à-vis the executive power, nor—at times—the necessary integrity or courage. Essentially then, my point is that to a certain degree, the fact of the former president’s son being a cabinet minister in various administrations has contributed to the case not being conducted as expeditiously as one would have expected.
Instead of crying for Muluzi, we need to think about and remember how corrupt his administration was. We need to consider how much better this country would have been had he led the country with integrity and not greedily decimated everything that Kamuzu Banda built and the MCP built. This country underwent some serious dilapidation under the corrupt leadership of the UDF administration those ten years between 1994 and 2004. We should not have short memories. The MK1.4 billion that Muluzi is accused of stealing could have gone a long way if it had been used by the government in some project or another. These are matters that we must think about honestly.
The bottom line, then, fellow uncommon sensors, is this: If there are questions of corruption surrounding his presidency, former president Bakili Muluzi needs to stand trial and face justice. No matter how long it takes.
This is not persecution. It is justice. It is the consequences of his actions; problems of his own making.
Allan Ntata’s Column is posted Every Sunday on The Maravi Post