Malawi’s parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chair Shadreck Namalomba has come under fire after issuing a statement that a majority of members, mainly from the ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and People’s Party (PP) described as interfering with the operations of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

A few days ago – Namalomba, in his capacity as spokesperson for the former ruling party – the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), wrote a statement lambasting the graft-busting body of harassing and persecuting his boss – former president Peter Mutharika who is under investigation for alleged abuse of his presidential privileges by allowing importation of K5 billion worth of cement using his duty-free status.

Although Mutharika has denied instructing his personal bodyguard Norman Chisale for the controversial importation following his arrest, ACB has been trying to interview him over the matter, and on several occasions, he has been giving excuses not to meet the bureau’s officials.

Chisale was arrested by Fiscal Police and faces fraud and money laundering charges as he is alleged to have used Mutharika’s taxpayer identification number to facilitate the transactions.

According to particulars of the offences, Chisale during the years 2018 and 2019 “by deceit or other fraudulent means imported 800 000 bags of cement without paying duty thereby causing a pecuniary detriment of five billion Malawi Kwacha to the Government of Malawi.”

The former President and his party are still trying hard to block the ACB from doing this investigation and Namalomba’s statement seems to be adding weight to this intention which has prompted some of his fellow members in the committee, from the ruling side, who have now teamed up to impeach him.

In a notice of intention to move a motion to remove the chairperson,  13 members out of 21 have appended their signatures to impeach the chairperson they say is compromised and has put the reputation of PAC in disrepute.

 “That Honourable Shadreck Namalomba, MP be removed from the position of Chairperson of Public Accounts Committee having displayed serious incompetence and misbehaviour which has been occasioned by his inability to provide objective leadership as anticipated by Standing Order 171 (4)(c), when he issued a statement, in defence of the Former Head of State concerning a matter which is under investigation by the ACB and which statement, as current Committee Members of Public Accounts, construe as having serious potential to undermine Public Accounts Committee mandate in our future oversight dealings with the ACB in matters of public finances as well as conflict of interest, unless the Honourable Member is removed as Chairperson of this Committee” reads the notice.

In a telephone interview, one of the MPs in support of the motion to remove Namalomba, George Zulu said it is justifiable to have the chair removed for his statement contradicts his role as PAC chair.

“As PAC, our main duty is to protect public resources so are institutions such as ACB; hence, having the chairperson attacking such institutions undermines not just our role, but also of these governance institutions. He has put us in an awkward situation. If we meet ACB how do we take them to account for their work when we are in the forefront interfering in their operations,” said Zulu.

But other members opposed to this decision – mainly from his political camp argue that Namalomba has demonstrated good leadership as PAC chair and that this intended removal is merely meant to weaken PAC so that it does not provide checks and balances to the new administration.

According to the members opposing the motion, Namalomba has become a threat because he has openly declared war against corruption. Namalomba recently indicated that PAC would probe how the Joyce Banda administration sold a presidential plane over eight years ago. Joyce Banda’s People’s Party is part of the Tonse Alliance administration. The selling of the plane has remained unresolved controversial issue. While the current leadership, while in opposition, had promised to get down to the root of this issue – nothing substantive has happened so far.

Deputy Chairperson for PAC Nedson Poya who is against the removal of the chair – said the basis for removing a chairperson – who has displayed competence in his undertakings is not reasonable. Poya, who comes from UDF a political bedfellow to Namalomba’s DPP, said the impeachment is meant to weaken the opposition.

“Honestly, Namalomba has demonstrated quality leadership at PAC and I guess his removal has nothing to do with his performance, but just politics. The biggest losers are Malawians who are deprived of proper leadership at PAC. PAC needs someone with a solid character like Namalomba,” argued Poya.

In an interview, Namalomba insisted that he does not see a problem with his statement against the ACB saying that was the party’s position which was he was relaying. The PAC chairperson equally considers his planned ouster an act of politics to mute dissenting voices.

“They should not personalize this. I just relayed the party’s position as spokesperson. Most of us hold party positions including the speaker who is deputy secretary general of MCP. Should we relinquish these to avoid conflict of interest? Well, if that is the feeling then let’s change standing order to reflect this new position and I will be more than willing to step down on that basis,” argued Namalomba.

He further contended that ACB being a public body – must be immune from criticism – further arguing that his statement does not amount to interference.

“Are you saying we must not raise questions with the conduct of the ACB? Is asking them to work professionally and independently interference? I stand by my statement that this was an honest observation,” he added.

A University of Malawi political analyst Ernest Thindwa has faulted Namalomba for his remarks – arguing that indeed the chair deserves a chop. According to Thindwa, PAC’s role is to ensure that there is accountability for public funds a role that ACB compliments; hence, his statement amounts to undermining the independent functions of ACB.

“The problem is not that he is doubling as spokesperson for his party, but his statement. He needed to be careful. How does PAC whip ACB for non-performance when the chairperson is in the forefront interfering with ACB’s operation? I think his position has become untenable,” argued Thindwa.

The procedure to remove the chair requires that there should be a notice which has to be to be supported by one-third of the Committee. PAC has 21 members – meaning the notice has to be supported by just seven members.  But the actual motion to remove the chairperson requires two-thirds majority.