WN: As CHRR, are you satisfied with the investigations surrounding cashgate trials?
TM: Not entirely.
WN: What have you been CHRR’s observations so far?
TM: While we have seen a series of arrests which clearly point to some level of progress being made on the matter, there is still a cloud of suspicion that surrounds these cashgate investigations, and cashgate in general. The manner in which some of these arrests have been conducted raises more questions than answers as to whether the public is being taken for another ride or not – that is, being made to believe as if something is happening. Of course, there are claims by some quarters that the cashgate arrests are selective, only targeting the previous regime. While realising that such claims may contain some level of truth based on our political history which has been characterised by a cat-and-mouse relationship between the ruling and predecessor party, we at CHRR are of the view that such notions should not inhibit the relevant authorities or the current government from carrying out independent investigations into cashgate, and in cases where those belonging to the previous regime are found to be on the bad side of the law they ought to face justice. People should not hide behind “political witch-hunting” accusations in order to evade the law. As long as such investigations are informed by intensive independent investigations, void of political interference.
WN: What are your fears as CHRR?
TM: The perennial failure by relevant authorities to finalise prosecution of “high level” cases of “national interest” has always been and continues to be our greatest fear even in the current cashgate saga. No regime since the dawn of democracy has been exempted from this cancer. The K17 billion corruption case involving the former head of state Dr Bakili Muluzi, Cassim Chilumpha treason case, the Chasowa murder case, the famous midnight six case just to mention a few are all not completed, and there is seemingly no indications that such cases shall be completed, at least for now. Informed by such a regrettable background, there is no guarantee that the swift pace which the current government has started in the investigations and its subsequent arrests shall be sustained. We may be in for another ride, and, if not careful, we may we realize this just when we are just a few days, months to another election. We just hope that the current regime will do things differently, by ensuring that all prosecutions into cashgate cases, irrespective of whether they concern big fish or small fish, are finalized as soon as possible in the best interest of the citizens who are painfully yearning for justice on the matter. It’s great to hear from both the President and the Minister of Information that government will not shield anyone implicated in the cashgate. It’s high time to translate such rhetoric to action
WN: Some members of the public have expressed their dissatisfaction over the sentences, which are said not to be fit given the amounts of money squandered, what does CHRR think?
TM: In our view, the public is justified with the expression of dissatisfaction over the sentences especially when you consider the harm cashgate has caused on the general public. Cashgate is a clear human rights violation as it impinges on the fundamental freedoms and rights including right to development, right to food, right to life, right to health just to mention a few. As such, at least from a moral perspective, a person convicted of this malpractice deserves hell and any sentence or punishment that does not live up to such expectation is likely to generate public outcry or discontent as has been the case in some of the recent cashgate cases. Even some have gone a step further to suggest that cashgate should be considered as a new form of crimes against humanity in view of the deaths which were registered in public hospitals due to shortage of drugs which the looted money would have catered for hence preventing the deaths. It is premised on such a context that the public outcry is justified. However, at the same time special consideration should be given to the question of whether such sentences imposed by the courts are within the law or not. If not within the law, then this would mean courts were in the wrong, and this would even further justify the public outcry. However, if it’s within the law, then perhaps certain actions or steps may be considered to be taken in as far as harmonizing the existing laws with the current situation. This may require some sort of legal reforms just to ensure that they speak to the reality or modern or current situations.
WN: Any last comment
TM Cash-gate cases ought to be treated with seriousness, especially when one factors in the economic and social ramifications the looting has left for the country. And the onus is now on this DPP-led government to prove that it can holistically deal with the vice without fear or favour. That should be the major post-election priority for the country.