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CSOs back govt’s ‘rejection’ to extend Chizuma’s directorship at ACB: “Appoint a successor with integrity”

A consortium of 11 civil society organizations (CSOs) established to advance good governance have spoken in support of purported refusal by the Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) to renew the contract for the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Ms Martha Chizuma.

The concerned CSOs include National Advocacy Platform (NAP), Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Youth and Society (YAS), Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT), National Alliance Against Corruption (NAAC), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Centre for Civil Society Strengthening(CSS), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and the Civil Society Coalition on Accountability and Transparency.

Others are Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRC), Nyika Institute (NI), NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO GCN), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), Citizen Alliance (CA), Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) and NGO Coalition on Child Rights (NGO CCR).

In May 2021, President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera appointed Chizuma as Malawi’s first DG for the graft-busting body. Her appointment came at the height of her impressive performance at the Office of the Ombudsman.

However, her directorship at the ACB has been mired with controversies to the extent that, more than once, some non-governmental organizations and activists called for her removal.

But President Chakwera saved her by appealing to Malawians to give her time to demonstrate her prowess.

And as her contract comes to an end, Chizuma is reported to have applied for an extension, which the government has rejected.

Reacting to the development, the abovementioned CSOs have defended the move by the government, stressing that Malawi needs an ACB Director General who has integrity.

In a press release issued on Thursday and signed by NAP Board Chairperson, Benedicto Kondowe, the organizations say the pending expiry of Chizuma’s contract presents an opportunity for reflection and strategic decision-making.

“As Malawi approaches a pivotal moment with the impending expiry of the contract of the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on 31st May, 2024, the nation stands at a crossroads. The tenure of the current Director General, appointed in 2021, has seen notable strides in the fight against corruption. From finalizing lifestyle audit guidelines to prosecuting some high-profile cases and bolstering institutional capacities, significant groundwork has been laid to foster a culture of transparency and accountability. However, notwithstanding the foregoing, we have also had a backlog of unconcluded investigation of cases during the tenure of Democratic Progressive Party. Therefore, as the nation contemplates the renewal or appointment of a successor, it is imperative to safeguard these hard-earned gains and ensure the continuity of anti-corruption efforts,” thus starts the release, which has been titled: “Safeguarding Progress: Ensuring Integrity in the Appointment of Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General”.

Kondowe and his colleagues in the CSO sector say it is critical to evaluate the achievements made during Chizuma’s tenure and consider how these milestones should inform the selection process for the next leader of the ACB.

This notwithstanding, the CSOs have patted Chizuma on the back for pursuing and prosecuting, albeit without concluding them, high-profile cases, such as those involving Batatawala and Sattar.

They say this sends a strong message that impunity will not be tolerated. They have also commended the current administration for providing adequate resources to the ACB, stressing that this is key to the success in corruption fight.

“Institutional strengthening is paramount for the long-term efficacy of anti-corruption efforts. Investing in human capital and fostering a culture of integrity within the ACB are essential for sustainable progress. Additionally, maintaining a positive donor image is crucial for securing the necessary resources to support anti-corruption initiatives. Donors are more likely to invest in countries with credible anti-corruption mechanisms in place, underscoring the importance of maintaining a robust ACB,” continues the statement.

Kondowe have therefore recommended that the decision-making process regarding the renewal or replacement of the Director General’s contract must be shielded from political interference, fearing that politicization would undermine the credibility of anti-corruption institutions and erodes public trust.

“The appointment of the Director General as well as the Deputy Director General should be based on merit, integrity, and a demonstrated commitment to combating corruption, rather than political affiliations. Implications of politicization extend beyond the realm of anti-corruption efforts, affecting the overall governance and democratic fabric of the nation. A politicized ACB risks becoming a tool for partisan agendas rather than a bastion of justice and accountability. Therefore, it is imperative to insulate anti-corruption institutions from political influence and ensure their independence and autonomy,” they say.

Kondowe said in an interview later that as civil society actors working in the democratic governance space in Malawi, they will always emphasize the importance of safeguarding progress that has been made in the fight against corruption.

He said by prioritizing merit over political considerations and investing in the institutional strength of the ACB, Malawi can lay the groundwork for a future free from the scourge of corruption.

“The fight against corruption is an ongoing battle that requires unwavering commitment, vigilance, and integrity. As Malawi stands on the brink of a new chapter in its anti-corruption journey, it is imperative to build upon the progress made thus far and chart a course towards a more transparent, accountable, and equitable society,” he said.

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