Today, 9th August 2022 marks one full year since I was arrested on alleged corruption charges. I am out on bail while the court process is in session, but one year on, I remain a detainee.
As I acknowledge this milestone in my life, I took a journey back to recount and reflect on events that occurred before my arrest, that should have served as red flags, what happened at my arrest, events that I observed while attending court, and what has happened just now.
Sometime last year, 2021, around May or June, not sure but certainly before my arrest, I received a phone call from a high-ranking Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) official alerting me that the Authority was under immense pressure from politicians serving as high ranking government officials to close my company, Mkaka Construction as they did with Mapeto DWSM Limited, on grounds of tax evasion. I challenged the MRA official that I have operated Mkaka Construction for 28 years since 1993 and have always been tax compliant. I asked him to tell me which income stream I have evaded tax on. He was unable to single out one. I, however, gave him the go-ahead to close the company and that we would see what their argument would be. Instead, the official informed me that they had already told the politicians that the Authority would audit the business to establish the allegations. And indeed, the business was audited 30 days later and was found to be tax compliant.
Two months later I got a call from a senior MCP member warning me to get ready for an arrest as they were having a meeting to explore what could implicate me enough to warrant an arrest. After this call I called Hon Sosten Gwengwe telling him that I have information that MCP, a party he is a member is exploring how they can implicate me so that I could be arrested. I told Hon Gwengwe that I was calling him for future reference. Hon Gwengwe was surprised and assured me that he thought I couldn’t be arrested.
On 9th August 2021, I was arrested on corruption allegations. Anti-Corruption Bureau officials threatened to handcuff me in the office if I resisted. I told them I had no intentions to resist but offered to be cuffed anyway. They did not. They searched my office and took me to my house where they searched each and every room and grabbed anything they thought would be useful for their case. This was happening in full view of my old parents despite me warning them that I had my old parents at home and that I doubted their capacity to handle such a situation. I was taken to ACB Head Office, thereafter to Lilongwe Police station where I spent one night with my co-accused Hon Enock Chihana and Hon Chris Chaima Banda. Later we were taken to Lumbadzi Police Station where we spent the second night in cell.
During all this time, no charge was read to me. I did not know what corrupt offence I had committed. We have information that we were in police cell for two nights apparently because they struggled to come up with charges against us.
My case is in court has so far seen two of the government witnesses paraded. The first was examined and cross-examined by the prosecution and defence respectively. The second was examined by the prosecution. The defence however has not had a chance to cross-examine the witness. The court was set for 27th to 29th June 2022 for cross examination of the second witness. The defence was advised that the witness was unwell and not fit for a court appearance. The case was adjourned to 11th to 15th July 2022. The defence was again advised that the case was adjourned indefinitely without reasons. The defence is hoping that new dates will be set when they can have their opportunity to cross-check the evidence provided under oath in court.
As I wait for my next court appearance, on unknown dates, on 1st august 2022, I received a call from Superintendent Henry Kalungu from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Area 30 Police headquarters. I was on my way to Kasungu then, so, I asked him what the matter was about. He said it was about a complaint by a Mr Mathias Bonongwe that I borrowed money from him and I am not paying. He said he could not say much but rather I should appear before him at Area 30. When I told him that I didn’t know the issue and the man in question, he insisted that it’s not possible as the money is huge so I should know about it. He also said Mr Bonongwe is a well-known man and that I should know him as well because he is that man who had issues with Mr Chimulilenji. I told him I would see him the following day at 9am.
On 2nd August 2022, I went to see him, accompanied by my lawyer. Superintendent Henry Kalungu explained to me that Mr Bonongwe, the man who was involved in the Chimulirenji maize case, laid a complaint that in 2020, while serving as a cabinet minister, I borrowed K250,000,000 (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Kwacha) from him and I was failing to pay. I asked Superintendent Henry Kalungu if Mr Bonongwe brought any documents for the loan. He responded, no. I asked what proof he (from Superintendent Henry Kalungu) had that I borrowed money from Mr Bonongwe. He responded that Mr Bonongwe came with people who knew me. I asked for the names of the people, who upon mentioning their names, I did not recognise. I then told him that firstly, I don’t know Mr Bonongwe. I have never met or talked to him. I also told him that my business has obtained and paid off bank loans to be operational for all these years, why would I decide to borrow money from a Mr Bonongwe? He could not respond. I asked Superintendent Henry Kalungu what he knew about the conclusion of Mr Chimulirenji’s case, he said he does not know. I wondered further how he, as a senior CID official would be unaware of a conclusion of a case involving a high-profile man like Mr Chimulirenji? He did not answer. I asked him why he was being involved as a police officer in a matter that Mr Bonongwe should be taking to the commercial Court. He could not respond. He then discharged us saying he will contact us once he hears from Mr Bonongwe. We left Area 30 Police headquarters wondering if Superintendent Henry Kalungu is working for Mr Bonongwe or the government of Malawi. If not the two, then who?
On 6th August 2022, I received a call from a man who introduced himself as Mr Alfred Gangata. Mr Gangata claimed he overheard Mr Bonongwe complaining to a colleague that I, Newton Kambala, had defrauded him some money. Mr Gangata then decided to reason with Mr Bonongwe that since I had a corruption case in court, he (Mr Gangata) should mediate and sort the matter amicably without attracting too much public attention. I asked Mr Gangata how he knew me and why he offered to cover for me. He had no reason other than that he just wanted to assist as I already have issues in court and that I am a public figure. I then told him that first I don’t know him or Mr Bonongwe and that I do not fall victim of blackmails and that today I can’t be blackmailed by the two. I finally advised him to warn Mr Bonongwe that he cannot survive on blackmail.
My questions as I wait for my case to be concluded are: Are the issues of my delayed case and the blackmail connected? Is someone trying to take advantage of my situation? How long am I going to remain incarcerated? If not through the law, is it going to get physical?
My family has lived in fear since my arrest. My father drifted into a minor stroke. My mother is having daily nightmares. Every day she wants to see me or at least talk to me on phone to be sure am not arrested again. My business has been adversely affected both locally and internationally.
This is the story of my one year in detention.
One wonders whether this is a true reflection of the Malawi System of Justice. As far as l am concerned, justice delayed is justice denied. The immeasurable trauma that my parents and my family have gone through, and experienced in the past 12 months should never be repeated on anyone else in this country especially under this multi party dispensation where equality before the law and equal opportunities in business and other fields of operation should only be guided by the supreme law of the land, our constitution, and not by grudge, hatred, jealousy, personal vendetta or the “kuthana syndrome”.
My Mkaka Construction Company business has been unduly victimized and denied it’s fair share of the market and denied it’s fair share of competition simply because of trumped up allegations against me.
Experience has shown that what l and my company have gone through in the past 12 months of victimization exudes a bad reflection on the good governance of the country, leading to low morale on domestic investment and local entrepreneurship and the thrust to develop our country from within using our own human capital, material and financial resources, which if properly and fully and optimally utilized could result into multiplier effects and have a very huge impact on the demise of the donor dependence syndrome, which has reduced our nation to a beggar , always kneeling with a begging bowl to donor nations every year for the 40% donor funded recurrent budgetary support, which at 58 years of independence, in turn mockingly reduces our nation to an overgrown baby.
If this country of ours is to improve, there is the need for a paradigm shift from jealousy, witch hunting , fault finding, evidence planting and the old practice of pulling each other down all the time. Let us recognise and encourage talent and merit among us. Let us have the national pride of “Made in Malawi’, ..”Done by Malawians”…… “Product of Malawi brainpower”.
However, at a personal level, l still need answers as to why l was arrested and why my business and l or my Mkaka Construction Company and l have been victimized and thrown into the Limbo for the past 12 months.
What wrong did l or did my company do to warrant such a fate.
Newton David Kambala