Malawi's high court has sentenced a former information minister and a subordinate to six years in prison for stealing computers and generators meant for a state-owned news agency. The punishments come the same week a presidential adviser and a ruling party spokesman resigned over corruption in the current government.
The sentences spotlight the government's crackdown on corruption and concerns that it’s being used to weed out rivals.
Former information minister Henry Mussa and his director of information Gideon Munthali, both members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party or DPP were sentenced this week, more than five months after their conviction on corruption charges.
They join several officials of the previous government jailed over various corruption-related cases, in a crackdown that the administration of President Lazarus Chakwera launched soon after winning the 2020 election.
This includes the arrest last November of the country’s vice president, Saulos Chilima, who allegedly took payments amounting to $280,000 and other items from British businessman Zuneth Sattar in return for Malawi government contracts.
DPP spokesperson Shadreck Namalomba applauds the crackdown, but said the problem is that the effort is marred with selective justice. He said most of the arrested are officials of the former ruling party rather than the current ruling party Tonse Alliance.
“Senior people in the Tonse [Alliance] government are resigning and are mentioning that there is gross corruption in the Tonse government,” Namalomba said. “Now what is ironic is that there is no one who has been arrested in the Tonse government, anyone who is answering a case of corruption in court and anyone who is imprisoned within the Tonse government.”
Namalomba said a good example of selective justice in the fight against corruption is the six years custodial sentence given to Mussa and Munthali although they returned the property they stole.
“We hear that people now, the Cashgaters, are being pardoned because they have returned money,” Namalomba said. “This is laughable. While others, like the case of honorable Mussa, they returned the money but he has been jailed while people who also defrauded the government are being forgiven. This is selective justice and it must not be condoned.”
Cashgaters is the name given for people who defrauded the Malawi government of an estimated $30 million during the administration of former president Joyce Banda, from 2012 to 2014.
Banda’s People’s Party is among nine parties that form the Tonse Alliance.
Local media reported last week that five Cashgate suspects recently dodged imprisonment after paying back the money they stole while three others were negotiating with the government to reimburse the funds and be discharged.
Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda told a local daily this week that he believes that amnesty remains the most viable way to recover public assets from suspects convicted of defrauding the government.
Political analyst George Phiri said the problem is that the Malawi government is mixing the fight of corruption with politics.
“Because if you look at all the people mentioned, they belong to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party,” Phiri said. “But what about these cases that we have seen from the Tonse Alliance? And there are many other things within the country which the suspects are not taken to court.”
VOA could not get immediate reaction from government authorities on the allegations of selective justice in dealing with corruption in Malawi.
However, President Chakwera told parliament Tuesday this week that delays in hearing corruption cases would end soon, following the establishment of a special anti-corruption court.