"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

When does a gift cease to be a gift and become a bribe that compromises a public officer

Dorothy Kweyu

MALAWI HIGH COURT JUDGE is making waves for unusual reasons. In a
corruption-prone continent, Mr Justice Edward Twea has caught the
nation's imagination after rejecting a cash "gift" from former
President Bakili Muluzi.

Mr Muluzi is the man
who made history when he dislodged President Kamuzu Banda to become
post-independence Malawi's second president in 1994.

And the good judge, according to media reports, handled the rejection
rather dramatically; he had the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal
deputy registrar return Sh7,000 (15,000 kwacha) to Mr Muluzi, who had
given him the "gift" when the former was admitted to a hospital in
Blantyre last year.

Mr Justice Twea had good cause to reject Mr
Muluzi's cash gift; he happens to be one of the three constitutional
court judges handling a case that seeks to interpret Section 83(3) of
Malawi's constitution, which seeks to restrict the president, the
vice-president and the second vice-president to a maximum two
consecutive terms.

Mr Muluzi became president
on a crest of popularity following decades of the Banda dictatorship.
Then, Malawi Young Pioneers held sway.

Pioneers literally forced beleaguered citizens to buy membership cards
from the ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which alone guaranteed
their access to markets, grinding mills, hospitals, transport, you name

The Young Pioneers would simply leave a batch of cards at an office, only coming back for the money.

Pregnant women had to buy, not only their cards, but also for their yet-to-be born babies.

These Pioneers had a military wing reportedly trained by Israelis, which was better equipped than the national army.

WAS, THEREFORE, WITH A HUGE sigh of relief that Mr Muluzi took the
reins of power a year after a successful referendum for multiparty
politics in 1993.

But Mr Muluzi's good will
among the people was short-lived - a fact that was amply demonstrated
when he failed to convince Malawians to allow him to run for a third

Enough about historical background; the
issue at hand is Mr Justice Twea's rejection of Mr Muluzi's K15,000.
Not only that; the country's Anti-Corruption Bureau is currently
investigating the former president on another case involving bribery of
court clerks.

While the amount involved may be
trivial, there is no escaping the judge's own explanation: " it would
be inappropriate and unethical for him to accept the money that
accompanied your good will message", wrote the registrar of the High

Given that the money was linked to Mr
Muluzi's visit to the judge, who had been admitted to hospital when the
gift was made, it is easy to accuse the judge of being petty.

After all, isn't common for relatives, friends and well-wishers to offer gifts to those in hospital?

yet, Mr Muluzi was not your normal well-wisher; he is a former Head of
State seeking another term. It is, therefore, common sense that his
financial gift should raise a red flag.

Secondly, Mr Justice Twea's rejection draws attention to the thin line
between traditional hospitality and graft. When does a gift cease to be
a gift and become a bribe that compromises a public officer in the
execution of his duties?

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