Malawi's government has rejected U.S. concerns that it is waging a campaign of intimidation against the country's anti-corruption chief. The U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe on Wednesday condemned what it called harassment of Malawi's Anti-Corruption Bureau director, Martha Chizuma.
Last week, Secretary to the Office of President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba suspended Chizuma, citing an audio recording where Chizuma accused some top officials of hindering her fight against corruption.
A court ordered the government to lift the suspension, but the government has asked the court to vacate the order.
In a recorded statement, the U.S. ambassador in Malawi, David Young, said the government's move "culminates two months of harassment" against Chizuma, and he said the embassy was deeply concerned with the government's actions.
"As a democratic partner, the embassy of the United States of America looks to the government of Malawi to actively pursue the fight against corruption and not to wage a campaign of intimidation against anti-corruption champions," Young said. "We have actively engaged senior government officials to seek renewed commitment to the fight against corruption, but those efforts have not yielded results."
Young cited the midnight arrest of Chizuma in December and criminal charges the government filed against her as other examples of government intimidation.
"Our shared commitment to Malawi's development depends on trust that Malawi will use public resources including development funds, transparently, fairly and with accountability. These recent actions undermine the credibility of the government of Malawi's stated commitment to the fight against corruption," he said.
The United States is Malawi's biggest financial supporter, providing more than $350 million annually in bilateral assistance.
According to the budget and finance committee in Malawi's parliament, studies have found that 20 percent of Malawi's national budget is lost through corruption.
Moses Kunkuyu, the Malawi government spokesperson, said in a statement that the Malawi government will follow diplomatic channels to address the concerns the U.S. Embassy has raised.
Kunkuyu, who is also the government's minister of information, told state radio that it is wrong to accuse the government of failing to fight corruption. He said President Lazarus Chakwera has supported Chizuma since opposition lawmakers rejected her appointment as head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
"There came this issue of audio, the president stood with her and pardoned her," Kunkuyu said. "Then the commission of inquiry recommended that some action should be taken against her, and the president stood with her. Then, there have been issues of funding crippling operations of ACB, the president ... issued that his government should provide funding to ACB."
The High Court of Malawi has dismissed the government's request to lift an injunction against Chizuma's suspension, saying it lacked merit.
The Malawi government says it will appeal against Wednesday's ruling, which has effectively allowed Chizuma to return to work.