Last Tuesday something curious happened at Sanjika Palace. Some Journalists and media personalities were invited to dine with president Peter Mutharika, and sometime towards the end of the dinner, blue envelopes purported to contain a booklet outlining the president’s vision on media freedoms were handed out to the guests. They opened them, and were surprised to find a pen, a blank notepad, and K50,000 (about US$100 ) in cash contained inside another envelope.
Then began the drama. What was the money for? Isn’t this bribery? Wouldn’t accepting it open a conflict of interest? Why were they not told about the gift prior to the dinner? Or when the invitations came? Why did the minister of information,Kondwani Nankhumwa, lie to them claiming the envelopes contained the president’s vision on press freedoms? Should they accept it? Can they return it there and then without offending the president? Should it be declared to their newsrooms, let alone to the public? Also, why in cash, why not a cheque – why does the whole thing appear like some secret thing?
In a poor country such as Malawi, I can imagine some of the journalists had a difficult moral judgement to make.
Some of the journalists decided to keep the money, including Raphael Tenthani, the BBC correspondent (they claim they will donate it to charity – to pay towards the medical bills of another journalist, Limbani Moya, who is undergoing a kidney transplant in India). One or two returned the envelopes that same night, but as can be imagined, the whole thing looked questionable. Among the journalists who kept the envelopes were some who decided that if they returned the money, palace officials would just share it amongst themselves, so they chose to keep the money and donate it to charity.
Over the last couple of days people on social media have debated the issue vigorously, claiming it was bribery, dismissing Peter Mutharika as corrupt. Comparing him to Joyce Banda and Bakili Muluzi. Very strong comments about the competency of the presidency have been made. Prominent Malawian legal practitioner and lawyer, Professor Dr. Danwood Chirwa who is a head of law at the University of Cape Town called the handing out of the envelopes crimes under Section 25B and 26 of the Corrupt Practices Act, and urged the journalists to return the money.
However, the question remains, who came up with such a silly idea?
Who was it that said, you know what we should do, let’s get some journalists together at Sanjika palace, lets give them some food and drinks, the president will make a speech, and answer some questions from the floor, then towards the end of the dinner, we’ll give the journalists $100 each? Who came up with that idea?
Although I doubt it, I’m inclined to ask: was it the president’s idea?
Or was it the minister of Information’s plan? Since he was willing to lie about it, maybe it was his idea? Was it concocted by one of the president’s advisers? If so the fool should be fired forthwith, because the gimmick wasn’t clever. It was stupid, and may have violated the law.
If he won’t be fired, then for his/her own self-respect, the architect of this scandal needs to quietly resign. The Mutharika government must stop churning out flawed gimmicks, as the ones we saw in the previous administration. These are the kind of things which give African politics, and African politicians a bad name. How can Malawi ever develop when we hold onto questionable practices, and when we are willing to violate our own laws, even at the highest office?
Further, what was the whole thing meant to achieve? Seriously, did Sanjika Palace really think that in the current polarised political environment that the issue wouldnt come out?
Remember how quickly Joyce Banda slipped down the route of bad decisions, like allowing the 100 days celebration to proceed at the expense of Independence Day celebrations? And how from there onwards it was all a list of disasters and flawed decisions. The massive devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha, South Korea Labour scandal, Jetgate, Madaonnagate, Cashgate…
Mr President, do yourself a big favour, please don’t go down that route.