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Cashgate casts doubt on Banda's future

Civic groups still raise questions about Malawi president's role in massive financial theft.
Last modified: 29 Jan 2014 17:33
President Joyce Banda faces elections later this year [EPA]

There has never been a trial in Africa quite like this. Appearing in the dock in the coming days will be many of Malawi's leading figures - politicians, civil servants and business people including bankers.

Investigations to date indicate that as much as $500m of public funds have been stolen over the past decade - that is approximately 30 percent of the national budget over this period.

The investigation leading to these criminal proceedings was launched by President Joyce Banda, shortly after her budget director was shot and seriously wounded. The then Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara has been charged with the shooting. He was released on bail but rearrested this week on new charges of money laundering and will now be among the more than 60 people facing charges.

The man who replaced Kasambara as justice minister is Farhan Assani. He used to be the chief prosecutor before being fired by the previous president after raising questions about corruption in the civil service. He was brought out of private legal practice by President Banda and tasked with heading the "Cashgate" investigation. He told Al Jazeera that the government has given him a free hand, and insists that his job is “to sweep the table clean with no one spared who is found to be involved”.

But some civic groups still raise questions about President Banda’s role in the massive financial theft, pointing out that an estimated $50m went missing after she took office.

Billy Banda, the executive director of Malawi Watch, is one of those who argues that the president needs to prove complete non-involvement. He welcomes the initiative of the Cashgate trials, but says that civic groups should be given far more involvement in the investigation. What he demands is that a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry be appointed to look into the matter - which should then consult widely among civic organisations and representatives of international donors. A large amount of the stolen money had come in aid funding, which accounts for about 40 percent of Malawi’s national income.

Elections are due to be held later this year- and Cashgate is likely to have an immense influence on their outcome. One of the questions is what impact Cashgate will have on Joyce Banda and her People’s Party at the polls?.

Another question that was brought up by an unemployed banker I met at the Labour Exchange, is what will happen to the Cashgate trials if the opposition wins the election? Will they simply disappear as have so many legal proceedings involving corruption in the past?