- Malawi's opposition has accused President Bingu wa Mutharika of using the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to "persecute" his opponents. President Mutharika denied the accusations at a recent function, saying his administration was not targeting the opposition.
"Corruption impedes development; it hurts the poor by diverting funds meant for them, and anyone who is found to be corrupt will be dealt with, including those who are serving in my government," he said as the crowd at the function cheered. The function was held on Sunday in the commercial capital, Blantyre, to mark the third National Anti-Corruption Day.
A number of senior United Democratic Front (UDF) officials have been arrested by the ACB since President Mutharika came to power in May 2005 and declared war on corruption.
UDF spokesman Sam Mpasu, who is being investigated for allegedly misappropriating funds while he was minister of education in the Bakili Muluzi administration, accused the ACB of "witch-hunting". Nicholas Dausi, a member of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party, claimed the ACB was only targeting political opponents.
The ACB was set up in 1995 during President Muluzi's tenure, but failed to investigate a number of corruption allegations against senior government officials. The IMF, the World Bank and other major donors suspended aid to Malawi in 2001, citing corruption, government over-expenditure and poor governance as some of the reasons.
President Mutharika, who assumed office on a UDF ticket after the 2004 general elections, launched a campaign to clean up the administration and refused to appoint corruption-tainted ministers to his cabinet. This resulted in strained relations between Mr Mutharika and the UDF, and he subsequently quit the party.
John Chikakwiya, Governor of the Southern Region and a UDF member, was arrested and convicted of fraud last year; last week former Education Minister Yusuf Mwawa became the second senior UDF member to be convicted of corruption-related charges.
Besides Mr Mpasu, the UDF's former deputy director of research, Humphrey Mvula; the UDF's shadow finance minister, Friday Jumbe; and Lucius Banda, an MP, are all being investigated for corruption. The ACB is also looking into allegations of misappropriation of funds linked to former President Muluzi.
The UDF responded to the anti-corruption drive with an impeachment charge last year, accusing President Mutharika of using US$ 300,000 of public money to launch his Democratic Progressive Party. The opposition parties, the largest bloc in parliament, managed to stall the functioning of the house at a time when Malawi was facing its worst drought in a decade, compounded by the late delivery of fertilisers and seed.
President Mutharika vowed on Sunday to maintain the steam of his anti-corruption drive. "For the past 10 years, corruption has been condoned in Malawi by the UDF. Even some NGOs and donors have condoned the practice ... The fight against corruption remains the focus of my government."
In the past few months a number of UDF officials have defected to Mr Mutharika's DPP, in what is being viewed as an attempt to save themselves from being targeted by the ACB. According to DPP publicity secretary Hetherwick Ntaba, "The ACB will not prosecute people just because they belong to [certain] political parties."
However, political analysts like Rafiq Hajat, director of the Blantyre-based Institute for Policy Interaction, believe the ACB is "working within certain parameters" and not all corruption allegations are pursued. "There are certain things that go unnoticed. In Africa, whoever is in power is immune to investigation until he or she leaves office. This is the reason why we have ministers and presidents reluctant to leave office - because of the fear of being prosecuted," Mr Hajat commented.
The UK government, which funds some of the ACB activities, has called on the bureau to conclude some of its pending major cases.
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