Joyce Banda, the president
of Malawi, has sacked her entire cabinet amid a corruption scandal, dubbed Cashgate by the media.
Up to 10 government officials have been arrested – including one who kept $25,000 (£15,675) at home and another who stashed banknotes in a car boot. They have been charged with money laundering,
misuse of public office and corruption.
Nine senior police officers were each jailed for 14 years last month for their roles in a $164,000 (£102,814) fraud. Paul Mphwiyo, an official who was seen as an anti-corruption crusader, was shot
and seriously injured last month in an apparent effort to silence him.
Banda reportedly told ministers she had lost faith in them at an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday. Tusekele Mwanyongo, a presidential spokesperson, said the president had carried out the mass
purge so the ministers could be investigated.
The point was "to make sure the ministers who may be implicated don't interfere with police in the investigations", Mwanyongo said.
Among the 25 cabinet members fired was the finance minister, Ken Lipenga who ,on Thursday, was leading a high-profile delegation in Washington to meetings with the International Monetary Fund and
It was not clear whether he continued with his mission, but Mwanyongo said: "You stop forthwith to act as a minister of the Malawi government the moment it has been announced. It does not matter
whether you are in Lilongwe or Washington."
Banda's hand may have been forced by western donors, who provide up to 40% of the national budget, which pays the country's 170,000 public servants, including the army and police.
On Thursday, the EU warned that it would not release an aid payment of €29m (£25m) in December unless the scandal was resolved. Alexander Baum, the head of the EU mission in Malawi, said swift
action was required. Donors were "watching with keen interest and the EU will make its disbursement of the pledged budgetary support of €29m depending on how government deals with the crisis", he
Banda said she had appointed a special team made up of police and government officials to carry out a financial audit of the state's finances, although the EU wants external auditors to oversee the
investigation. Britain has offered to bring in forensic experts and the government is yet to respond to the offer.
The scandal forced the government to shut down its payment system last week so it could investigate more than $4m (£2.5m) that went missing, delaying the payment of salaries to teachers, nurses and
Mphwiyo, the budget director in the finance ministry, was seriously wounded by a gunman last month as he was about to expose a
corruption ring. He was airlifted to South Africa for specialised treatment and has recovered.
Banda, who appointed Mphwiyo, said it was a targeted attack to silence him. "It is only Mphwiyo who can tell us the truth."
The political analyst Ernest Thindwa said he welcomed Banda's decision to sack the cabinet, describing it as an indicator that "so much looting was taking place".
He warned that the president must be careful in assembling another team. "This will be an opportunity to pick her new team based on competency and not political expediency."
Banda, one of only two female presidents in Africa, who came to power last year after the sudden death of the incumbent Bingu wa Mutharika, faces elections
in May 2014 and was said to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity owing to an improving economy.