Despite the popularized perception that it has taken long, the recommended arrest that many Malawians have been waiting and hoping for; the arrest of former Minister of Agriculture, Dr. George Thupatula Chaponda, has finally come to pass.
Chaponda was arrested on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). He has since been charged with four counts of corruptly performing public functions, misuse of public office and possession of foreign currency contrary to section, 25 A (1), 25 B (1) of the Corrupt Practices Act and Regulation 25 A (1) of the Exchange Control Regulations as read with Section 3 of the Exchange Control Act, respectively. He has spent a night in a police cell and was yet to be granted bail at the time of writing.
Chaponda is no small person. Apart from the fact that he is just fresh from cabinet, he is also Vice President of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the Southern Region, and, therefore, a very senior member of the ruling elite and self- styled political bulldozer.
This is obviously the most high-profile arrest in the history of Malawian politics where an individual perceived to the the most trusted friend of the Head of State is involved. It is unprecedented and it is not surprising at all that many people are wondering how a person perceived to be very senior in the ruling party and also a personal friend to State President Peter Mutharika could be arrested and spend a night in a police cell.
Could this arrest be a Trojan Horse? Could it be one of those political machinations to blindfold Malawians that the fight against corruption is real?
Whatever the case is, one thing is clearly evident in the Wednesday arrest. The events on Chaponda arrest suggest that President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika does not interfere with the wheels of justice, contrary to popular opinion a few months ago.
When MAIZEGATE came into the limelight some months ago, every Jim and Jack who thinks they know how to talk and analyze issues immediately went to town on Dr. Chaponda and President Mutharika.
They accused the President of icing the wheels of justice to ensure that ‘his friend’ escapes arrest. Some even made wild accusations that can only come from the sun. But President Mutharika did not allow the non-stop musings from small-minded bunch of politicos to sway him from his sober resolve to have things take a logical course of justice.
He instituted a Commission of Inquiry so that thorough investigations are made and that all sides to the equation are given a fair hearing before conclusions are made.
The parliamentary committee on public accounts (PAC) also did its thorough inquiry into the MAIZEGATE and one Kamlepo Kalua, MP, was given all forms of platform to express both his official and personal views on the maize scandal.
The fact that the ACB has netted Dr. Chaponda only confirms the fact that the government of President Peter Mutharika does not and will not interfere with the course of justice despite the pain.
Now that, finally, Dr. Chaponda has been arrested, it means that the concept of presumption of innocence until proven guilty is firmly entrenched in our democratic establishment. What it means is that there is unquestionable political will at the highest level to deal with corruption and abuse of state resources according to the rules of justice and good governance.
Dr. George Chaponda and his accomplices are not guilty yet. They are not convicts yet until they are taken to court, tried and judged. Therefore, reports that some overzealous citizens were hurling insults and stones at the vehicle carrying suspecte on Wednesday cannot be condoned.
As Malawians, let us maintain peace, order and patience as the law-enforcement agencies deal with this matter without any undue external pressures. The executive arm of government, led by the Head of State, have already demonstrated that no individual, however close they are to the powers that be, shall not enjoy any amnesty when they are corruption suspects. Let that spirit be maintained so that, for once, our international cooperating partners can take us seriously.
Finally, Honourable Kamlepo Kalua, opposition leadership, PAC, the civil society, the media, the diplomatic community, et all, must also, for once, stand up, without any hesitation, and commend the ACB for this bold step. They have all touted the ACB as ‘toothless bulldog’ for the alleged inaction against Dr. Chaponda and others. Now that it is ‘biting’, let’s all encourage the ACB to do even more biting instead of deliberately giving this positive step a blind eye.
As Malawians, let us all take heed of the President’s call in Parliament recently for mindset change in order to take real action against corruption. This demands concerted efforts of all Malawians, regardless of political affiliation, to contribute to the fight against corruption is a spirit of patriotism and nationalism.
It is everyone’s hope that this matter, like all outstanding corruption matters, will reach their logical conclusion. The fight against corruption must not remain political rhetoric by both the opposition and government but a genuine step towards riding Malawi of cancerous vice.