/ 15 February 2022

Corruption scandal smoulders as Malawi’s president fires cabinet

Files Malawi Vote
Lazarus Chakwera, Malawi's President. (Amos Gumulira/AFP)

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera came to power promising to tackle corruption. But his handling of a deepening corruption scandal, threaded through three of his predecessors’ terms, is threatening to undo his presidency.

A United Kingdom-based businessman, Zuneth Sattar, is accused of bribing several government officials for more than a decade to obtain contracts with the Malawi government. Britain’s National Crime Agency and Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) have launched an investigation into Sattar’s alleged activities and one cabinet minister, Kezzie Msukwa, was arrested recently by the ACB.

The president, who previously fired two ministers embroiled in corruption or abuse of office, did not fire Msukwa from his cabinet for more than three weeks after he was arrested.

Then Chakwera snapped into action, dissolving his cabinet. He simultaneously launched a scathing attack on ACB director general Martha Chizuma for allegedly breaking her oath of office. This followed the widespread circulation of a recording in which Chizuma was heard commenting on issues regarding the Sattar investigation.

In the recording, Chizuma complains of lack of support from the executive, accused some judges of receiving bribes from Sattar and suggests that influential churches cherry-pick who to criticise for being embroiled in corruption on the basis of their church affiliation.

The president said he was hurt by the recording but also said he has no plans to axe Chizuma, despite pressure from his administration to do so.

Chakwera then pledged to put a new cabinet in place. He released a partial 12-member cabinet, without naming the foreign affairs, finance and homeland security ministers, among others.

Many will welcome the political changes and the retention of Chizuma but will be concerned about whether the president has a long-term plan to transform the country’s political dynamics, and the deterioration of his relationship with those whose job it is to get a grip of Malawi’s corruption problems.

This article first appeared in The Continent, the award-winning pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.