Malawi has suspended the head of its Anti-Corruption Bureau over a leaked audio clip that where she suggested high-ranking officials were obstructing justice.
Martha Chizuma was arrested in December for the same issue but released on the order of President Lazarus Chakwera. Malawi media reports say Chizuma's suspension came just hours before the bureau planned to issue arrest warrants for top officials.
In a letter made public Wednesday, Colleen Zamba, who is the secretary to the president and cabinet, said Chizuma's suspension started January 31 and will last until the conclusion of the case.
In an audio with an unknown person that was later leaked to social media, Chizuma said that high-ranking officials, including lawyers, a judge and government authorities, were hindering her fight against corruption.
This prompted some of the accused people, including former director of public prosecution Steven Kayuni, to file criminal charges against her.
The latest lawsuit last week was in relation to comments she made in the audio against a judge, Simeon Mdeza, who at the time was handling a corruption case.
The two charges include making remarks calculated to lower the authority of a judge before a judicial proceeding is heard, and making comments capable of prejudicing a person against a party to judicial proceedings.
Martha Kaukonde, who is Chizuma's lawyer, told VOA the suspension order is void and it will be challenged in court on Friday.
“The law is very clear that she can only be suspended by the president," Kaukonde. "And in this scenario, she has been suspended by the head of civil service, SPC.”
During the State of the Nation address on January 24, President Lazarus Chakwera described Chizuma's action as unfortunate but said he would not dismiss her.
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Instead, he issued a stern warning that he will keep an eye on her conduct
Michael Kayiyatsa, the executive director for the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said he is surprised with the government’s sudden change of heart.
“If you analyze the whole issue, it’s a matter of hypocrisy," Kaiyatsa said. "The president has been hypocritical because what he says publicly and what he does behind the scenes is contradictory. The same president says, ‘I have forgiven Martha,’ and later on he allows his own government to interdict her. The president has been sending conflicting messages.”
Malawi media reports say Chizuma's suspension came just hours before the Anti-Corruption Bureau planned to issue arrest warrants for top officials.
Attorney Kaukonde suspects the move to punish Chizuma was planned long ago.
“I think it started in January 2022," said Kaukonde. "It’s a plot to destabilize the fight against corruption. That’s what we are speculating. So, nothing more to it, she is just doing her job, and then she is stopped from doing her job.”
George Phiri, a former lecturer of political science at the University of Livingstonia in the north of Malawi, said the twists and turns of the Chizuma issue confirm there are some people within the government trying to hinder the fight against corruption.
"We need to know who is doing all this," Phiri said. "Because the fight against corruption is on. And Martha Chizuma has taken the stand to fight as her office requires.”
In the meantime, the chairperson for the Legal Affairs Committee of parliament, Peter Dimba has resigned, citing frustration with how the Malawi government is handling issues surrounding the corruption fight.
In his resignation letter dated February 2, Dimba says he has observed that efforts to provide checks and balances to the government, particularly on the fight against corruption, have proved futile.
He said as a leader, he has taken full responsibility for failing Malawians in this regard.