Malawi adopts measures to impeach president

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

BLANTYRE, Malawi -- Malawi's opposition-dominated Parliament adopted procedures late Tuesday to impeach the president over allegations of misusing public funds and flouting the constitution.

It was the latest salvo in a growing feud between President Bingu wa Mutharika and his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, who hand-picked wa Mutharika to succeed him.

Earlier Tuesday, the country's anti-corruption bureau said it had summoned Muluzi to answer questions about the source of his personal wealth, which is believed to run into millions of dollars.

Malawi's neighbors and foreign donors have expressed concern the political wrangling could destabilize the region and hinder aid to millions of hungry Malawians.

Wa Mutharika quit Muluzi's United Democratic Front in February following disputes over the arrest of senior party members on fraud and corruption charges. Wa Mutharika accused Muluzi of conspiring to assassinate him -- claims the former president denied.

The UDF, backed by the opposition Malawi Congress Party, then tried to impeach wa Mutharika, accusing him of misusing government funds to set up his own party. They also accused him of using state assets to pay for personal expenses, including the education of his grandchildren.

While the constitution provides for impeachment, no legislation existed outlining how this can be done.

Attempts by the two opposition parties to fill this legal gap prompted heated debates, but their proposals were approved by a simple majority of Parliament's 193 members Tuesday.

There was no immediate response from wa Mutharika's office. Speaker Louis Chimango said he needed legal guidance before deciding Parliament's next move.

Under the new guidelines, a lawmaker can introduce a motion to impeach after collecting the signatures of at least one-third of representatives.

The president is then invited to defend himself before Parliament. The country's chief justice presides over the proceedings culminating in a vote.

The UDF and Congress parties won 110 seats between them in the last elections -- just short of the two-thirds majority required to pass an impeachment motion -- but an unspecified number have defected to wa Mutharika's side.

Meanwhile, Muluzi will be questioned Monday about transactions he had with Taiwan, Libya, Morocco, Rwanda and some foreign organizations, anti-corruption bureau director Gustave Kaliwo said in a letter to Muluzi that was leaked to The Nation and The Daily Times newspapers. Kaliwo confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

The bureau alleges Muluzi diverted money meant for the state into his personal account. It also alleges Muluzi received money from "unknown sources" and other money from large companies operating in Malawi.

Muluzi's lawyer, David Kanyenda, confirmed receiving the letter but did not comment on the accusations. No charges have been brought so far.

Wa Mutharika has waged what he calls a "zero tolerance" campaign against corruption in Malawi since he was elected in May 2004. Critics allege the anti-corruption drive is politically motivated. The government has denied that charge.

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