Malawi’s former budget director has become among the latest high profile people to be arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the public graft case known as Cashgate.
The recent arrest of Paul Mphwiyo and his wife was the first of a new series of arrests by the country’s corruption busting body, which saw five people arrested within a space of four days.
The others are the newly appointed director of the Public Officers’ Assets Declaration, Christopher Tukula, former publicity secretary of the former ruling People’s Party, Hophmally Makande and a lawyer, Ishmael Chioko.
They are answering various charges, including theft, money laundering and defeating the course of justice alongside more than 60 other suspects arrested last year over involvement in the financial scam.
The new arrests come just weeks after the British forensic audit firm Baker Tilly released to the Malawi government a report containing names of those suspected to have taken part in the graft.
The audit report concludes that more than $30 million was looted from government coffers between April and September last year.
Reyneck Matemba is the Deputy Director for the Anti-Corruption Bureau. He said the latest arrests are a milestone in the ongoing Cashgate prosecutions.
“This arrest, especially the arrest of Mr. Paul Mphwiyo, is very significant in as far as getting to the root of the Cashgate is concerned. As you are aware, Mr. Paul Mphwiyo was a budget director during the period when the government lost a lot of finances - that was between April and September last year. So we believe that the arrest of Paul Mphwiyo would lead us somewhere,” said Matemba.
Many Malawians have viewed the new arrests as a good development.
“I think it’s a positive development. I would like to hail the government’s move towards that. A lot have been said about the former budget director and the former government so this is a positive way towards arriving at the root cause of the Cashgate,” said Frackson Nthara, a second-hand clothes seller at Mbayani market in Blantyre.
Paul Mphwiyo was a government witness in Cashgate trials after surviving an assassination attempt in September last year by people he believed were unhappy with his stand against corruption at his work place.
Timothy Ntambo, executive director for the rights group Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, told VOA that despite the new strides in the Cashgate arrests, he is concerned about the “slow pace” at which the trials are moving.
He said it is unfortunate that of the more than 60 people arrested last year, only one case has so far been completed.
The High Court recently convicted Treza Namathanga Senzani, who is now serving a three-year jail term.
Mwiza Nkhata, Dean of Law at the Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, told a local radio station the government should tread carefully on the arrests being made to avoid lawsuits which could later cost government a lot of money in compensation.
“Good practice requires that you should not arrest people unless you have built up a substantial case against particular individuals… If you are planning to arrest people you must have completed investigations ensure that the government does not expose itself to suits for malicious prosecution or false imprisonment,” said Nkhata.
The ACB authorities maintain the arrests are made after thorough investigations.
Political analyst Mustafa Hussein told VOA that he was surprised by the lenient sentences handed down in the first conviction.
He said the three year prison term given to Senzani for stealing $150,000 is a mockery of justice and hopes that this will not be repeated in the remaining court verdicts.
“In view of the amount of money which has been involved, K63 million, and if we look at some cases that have even attracted higher sentences… We saw yesterday in the papers somebody stole around K160,000 but was given a five year jail term. So all I expect is justice. People who stole public money should be dealt with justly and the sentence should be seen to reflect justice,” said Hussein.
Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has announced that it will summon key government controlling officers next week for updates on their investigations into the Cashgate scandal.