A court in Lilongwe Tuesday registered the first conviction for the people that stole money from government coffers popularly known as ‘cashgate’ with the first convict getting three years on one account and nine months in another.
However the sentence has drawn heavy criticism on social media platforms with people viewing it as lighter considering the financial consequences that Malawi suffered following the revelation of the theft.
High Court judge, Justice Ivy Kamanga, found guilty of theft and money laundering former Principal Secretary in the Tourism minister Treza Senzani.
Ms Senzani had pleaded guilty in misappropriation of money amounting to $157,500 (Ksh13.8m).
Malawi government lost over $30 million of the tax payers’ money within a period of two years. Ms Senzani was charged with theft and money laundering.
Delivering the judgment judge Kamanga observed that the prosecution had compelled the Court to take judicial notice that donors had withdrawn aid in Malawi which resulted things as medicines not found in hospitals in reaction to the theft.
“The defendant was in breach of trust. She was custodian of government funds in her ministry. A harsh sentence is justified argued the State.
She did not deserve a non custodial sentence but a custodial sentence,” said the judge.
She then sentenced Senzani three years for money laundering and nine months for theft.
However on social media there is a huge outcry with people describing the sentence as a wrong tone for the impending cases to come saying the precedent that has been set will not deter government workers from stealing from government coffers in future.
Over 68 people are answering charges of stealing from government coffers, however most of these people answering the charges are low civil servants.
While in New York for the United Nation General Assembly President Peter Mutharika, assured Malawians in United States that government was zeroing in on the big fishes that were involved in the theft of government money.
Former President Joyce Banda administration refused to make public names of the people that United Kingdom based audit firm Baker Tilly had presented to government as suspects in the cashgate scam.
Unconfirmed Baker Tilly audit report, purportedly to have leaked from government, points at President Banda and several government and party officials as the culprits and calls for their immediate arrest.
Malawi court today ordered a senior government official jailed for three years, in the first sentence to be handed down in the so-called Cashgate scandal that led to the suspension of foreign aid to the country.
Treza Namathanga Senzani, the former principal secretary in the tourism ministry, pleaded guilty to stealing $150,000 from state coffers, and was condemned to three years behind bars for money laundering and theft.
“Despite being a first offender, she does not deserve a suspended sentence,” ruled judge Ivy Kamanga.
The judge also ordered that the funds she pilfered be forfeited to government. The cash was part of a broader swindle worth at least $30 million.
The scandal prompted foreign donors — who provide around 40 per cent of Malawi’s budget — to pull the plug on aid of around $150 million (118 million euros).
The Cashgate scheme is the biggest financial scandal in Malawi’s history, and helped push former president Joyce Banda out of power during elections in May.
The judge said that as a principal secretary, Senzani “was a custodian of money and willingly stole government money.” “It was an illegal act that had an impact on the economy.”
Senzani, 50, who looked composed after the two-hour long sentence ruling, was arrested last year after a probe found she issued two government cheques to her own company even though it did not provide any goods or services to the state.
She is one of the dozens of civil servants charged with theft and money laundering. Defence lawyer Nector Mhura plans to appeal the sentence.
New President Peter Mutharika has vowed to battle corruption in Malawi.
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