We sing in our national anthem that we have three enemies: hunger, disease and envy. However, above all these is a greater enemy: corruption. Since 1994, we have seen people get rich quickly, some civil servants build scores of mansions and buy the most expensive cars without any clear evidence of how they make such enormous sums of money. Some politicians, eager to amass wealth so they can buy votes and thus stay in power endlessly have connived with some civil servants to steal through dubious contracts. The private sector has been at the core of the corruption by putting money in the pockets of corrupt civil servants and politicians to win tenders. Slowly, those of us who have repeatedly railed against corruption have been painted as the bad ones.
As a nation, we are collectively guilty for allowing the cancer of corruption to metastasize as much as it has. We burn petty thieves while appointing great ones to public office. We crave for expensive Mercedes Benzes and Range Rovers even while knowing fully well we cannot afford them through honest means.
We want to build mansions overnight and transform ourselves into little kings and queens, even with ill-gotten wealth. Those who cannot be part of the corrupt deals reduce themselves into praise singers of those who got rich through dubious means. What matters is “success”, no matter how one gets there.
Previous governments have talked tough on corruption but have done everything within their powers to frustrate the fight. They have used the Anti-Corruption Bureau only as a dog they can unleash selectively to settle political scores. Flashes of courage on the part of Directors-General of ACB have been few and far between. Plenty of files are gathering dust as we speak.
President Lazarus Chakwera’s agenda has five pillars, one of which is fighting corruption. In choosing Ms Martha Chizuma as ACB Director-General, the President has sent a strong message to corrupt fat cats that he is not joking. He wants to oversee the toughest fight since 1994.
Ms Martha Chizuma has given some of us hope that she can lead such a fight. After becoming Ombudsman in 2015, she transformed an office very few were aware of into a formidable weapon against corruption and abuse of office. She started off with the tractor scandal, then went on to the removal of wombs scandal at Queen’s, then, of late, the abuse of COVID funds and more than 10 other investigations – all of them groundbreaking.
Now she takes on her toughest challenge yet. As we celebrate her confirmation today, we should know that we have won the battle but not the war. Real victory will be when we see corrupt fat cats arrested and convicted, their ill-gotten loot seized by the State. Since her confirmation was contentious, an army of naysayers is waiting to discredit her efforts from day one.
The fight will be tough, at times frustrating. As they say in Haiti, “Dèyè mòn gen mon” – behind the mountains there are also mountains. What is frightening is that even in the judiciary there is also corruption. Indeed, I know of at least one Supreme Court judge who was firmly against the confirmation of Ms Martha Chizuma, and worked through his acolytes to frustrate the process.
Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda, speaking at a sherry party in October 2018, admitted that corruption is a real and present danger in the judiciary. Over the years it has become worse. We know of lawyers who are hired solely because they have mastered the art of bribing judges and magistrates. And so, Ms Chizuma will be up against many forces, but with the public’s support and with God’s guiding hand, we shall overcome.
We pray and hope that no one in the corridors of power will try to put unsustainable pressure on her to avoid touching sacred cows. We are all equal before the law. You are there to fight for the poor, not for the ruling elite. No one should be untouchable.
The State would do well to give Ms Chizuma strong security. We know that the corrupt mafia might not take such defeat lying down, they may try other things. Above all, may the Almighty Lord protect Ms Chizuma as she walks into the ring. We are behind you, Madam. In the end, we hope for victory for the poor.
Congratulations once again.