Written by Patseni Mauka
One of the questions that many Malawians ask on Joyce Banda’s involvement in the cashgate financial scandal is; why is Joyce Banda not being arrested despite the fact that one of the key men in the scandal, Oswald Lutepo, who was convicted and jailed, said he was sent to steal billions of Kwachas by her?
Some people who ask this question in defending their leader, Joyce Banda, ignorantly or conveniently believe she is innocent. This group further says that the fact that five years down the line, she has not been arrested, means there is no evidence of her involvement. As we are going to see from the analysis below, nothing could be further from the truth. Some people ask the same question because they are genuinely ignorant about how deep the acts of stealing have gone in government.
The answer to this question lies in what Justice Prof. R.E. Kapindu said in his judgment sentencing Lutepo to 11 years imprisonment with hard labor after being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. The judge wrote the following;
The facts led by the State, as well as the confession statement of the convict herein, Mr. Oswald Flywell Gideon Lutepo (hereafter referred to alternatively as Mr. Lutepo or the convict), dated 5 June 2015 suggest two categories of plunderers of State funds that the convict collaborated with in 2013. First were politicians, described by the convict as “highly placed politicians”. He proceeded to name these “Highly placed politicians” in his Statement made to the State dated 28 July 2015, and his “Declaration of Beneficiaries of Bank Transactions” dated 3rd September 2015.
I must immediately mention that I am mindful that such politicians and other persons mentioned by the convict as the masterminds and main beneficiaries of the laundered money are not before this Court. Proof of their involvement and role, in point of law, can only be established if they are charged, tried and convicted by a competent Court of law.
Given the facts laid bare before me however, I would wish to see of principle. If indeed it be proven that such highly placed politicians were the ultimate masterminds of this plunder of State resources and primarily so for purposes of “cash-rolling” a political campaign, this would represent a major governance catastrophe that befell this nation.
It would entail that such politicians thought that the best way to garner the sustained trust of the people of Malawi in order to gain or remain in power, was to fundamentally breach the very trust those people had reposed in them in the first place……….
The second category of plunderers, the facts suggest, were collaborators with those in the first category. This was a group of very greedy people, businesspeople and civil servants, who apparently had a get-rich-quick mentality. They seem to have had no sense of shame in wallowing in the luxuries of embezzled taxpayers’ money, whilst the greater lot of Malawian taxpayers were drowning in the misery of acute lack of essential service delivery. These are the type of people who somehow derive pride in reaping where they did not sow. I take judicial notice that several of them have now been convicted and are either serving prison terms or are awaiting sentence and other concomitant processes.
From the above excerpt, we can see that the master-minders of cashgate were politicians trusted with taxpayer’s money. In this case, the chief custodian of taxpayer’s money was former President Joyce Banda. Lutepo mentioned Joyce Banda and her People’s Party (PP) as the main beneficiaries of billions of stolen taxpayers’ money.
Lutepo said the money was for PP’s 2014 campaign. He was a member of PP and was seen many times in the company of Joyce Banda at State House ‘donating’ vehicles. He ‘donated’ billions of Kwachas in cash and kind. For money to come out of government accounts without obvious connections to them, politicians led by Joyce Banda sought help from unscrupulous businessmen. But they had to reward civil servants whose help was needed for the money to come out.
It must be noted that most of the money that was siphoned out of government accounts was deposited into bank accounts of businessmen without offering any service or goods to government. It was just a way of taking the money out. No sane person would believe that such billions of Kwachas would leave government accounts through the businessmen and ultimately into Joyce Banda’s hands without her approval. Most importantly, in this case we have a convicted witness who revealed how Joyce Banda benefited from this money.
Unfortunately, the only people who have been taken to court and convicted are the businessmen and some civil servants. The politicians who are the master-minders are freely roaming the streets and making coalitions with other politicians to be elected back into government in order to continue from where they left. No senior politician has been charged and tried.
In the above statement, Justice Kapindu literally said ‘charge those politicians and bring them to court so that we should do our work.’ The courts can only do their job if the politicians are charged and taken to court. That job is for the executive branch of government which as everyone knows is headed by politicians!
So, getting back to the question; why is Joyce Banda not being arrested? Firstly, if the politicians had their way, they would have loved to just sign a cheque and get the money from the consolidated account. But that would be ‘openly’ stealing, and it would dent their ‘good image’ and land them into jail quickly.
In order to make sure that the stealing should not be traced back to them, they organized a syndicate that would help them cover their tracks. This folk is pure mafia style way of doing things. Only that in this case, these are the people that are trusted with billions of taxpayers’ money by millions of Malawians.
For Joyce Banda, advice on covering her tracks must have been close to her because she is married to former Chief Justice Richard Banda. If you think she orchestrated all this without her husband’s legal advice, you must be someone who believes in Santa. Joyce Banda has publicly bragged that her husband is her number one lawyer. So yes, she planned with her number one lawyer to cover her tracks.
This means charging and successfully prosecuting Joyce Banda would require detailed investigations. Although it would be a poor reason for not prosecuting her, this could be why the current government is not arresting her. But I refuse to believe that the government would fail to prosecute a criminal whose convicted accomplices mentioned her. It just requires the executive branch of government to make a move and let government prosecutors and the courts do their work.
However, remember the executive branch which is supposed to charge such criminals and take them to court is headed by politicians. The current ruling DPP politicians have their own version of cashgate dating way back before Joyce Banda became president. On top of that Joyce Banda was one of the senior DPP members when the DPP version of cashgate took place.
Even though Joyce Banda is now a political rival to DPP, their roots are entangled, so is their style of stealing money from account number one. DPP would also pay a heavy price if the trial of Joyce Banda revealed more on DPP version of cashgate. Seven ministers in the current cabinet are implicated in the DPP cashgate. That is why Peter Mutharika, the head of state cannot prosecute Joyce Banda.
These are the main reasons why Joyce Banda is not being arrested. Trials for politicians are complicated because the executive branch of government which is supposed to make the first move in prosecutions is headed by politicians. Just look at the corruption trial of Bakili Muluzi which has taken over 12 years without direction with DPP ‘taking care of him’ because Bakili ‘s son, Atupele is in a political marriage with them.
Joyce Banda’s current political objective is getting back into government in order to be assured of maximum protection from prosecution. For now, she has taken a gamble on Lazarus Chakwera and MCP. In the unlikely event that MCP wins the 2019 elections, Chakwera will reward Joyce Banda’s electoral support with protection from prosecution on fraud and money laundering. That is apart from the promised ministerial positions Joyce Banda revealed last week.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Publisher or the Editor of Maravi Post