“By making the government a combination of elected officials and citizen-backed initiatives and referenda, there can truly be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” ― Victoria Stoklasa, Sign It Into Law: How to Put Your Petition on the Ballot
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so the saying goes. Also, it takes a thief to catch a thief, so the idiom goes.
A scandal of rampant corruption on a colossal scale, dodgy deals that swindled millions of dollars from Malawi government state coffers, a mush of top-level fraud, pseudo-mafia syndicates, cover-ups, propaganda, damage limitation and possibly character assassination has been running amok on social media circles lately. The plot, which includes illegal cashing of cheques using ghost companies or companies that did not supply any goods or services to the government, makes some astounding (but not entirely surprising) allegations and sounds like something out of a Nollywood movie. Or from a wild wild west film. You don’t believe me? Well, for a start take a look at these titles:
And that’s before we even get to the issue of inflated invoices most recently decried here.
But, but before I continue (and before somebody erroneously labels me a cantankerous and belligerent git beguiled by rumour, speculation or social media chit-chat), I must categorically state that my interest in the story you are about to read is either as a messenger-cum-advocate (writing to advance and improve Malawi’s economic situation by dissemination of progressive ideas, views and inspiration – which probably includes exposing corruption that stands in the way of progress), or as a shocked Malawian national horrified by the scale and proliferation of impunity in government. At least that’s what I think.
I have absolutely no interest in petty fights or trifles, no interest in causing problems for anybody, neither interest nor intention in tarnishing individual reputations, I take absolutely no pleasure in defaming upright politicians or honest members of the public, and will take no responsibility whatsoever over the accuracy of what is handed over to me. I’m only reflecting what I’ve received and have been asked to publish, and should it be false, or not entirely true, I will do nothing other than publish one apology to those aggrieved by the allegations – here, on the same page as the allegation and, if they like, in BIG LETTERS and on a massive RED background, in a number of languages, for full effect:-
Obviously, anyone sensible never publishes serious allegations without doing some serious research and taking reasonable steps to invite comment or alternative storylines from those that stand accused of the allegations (as far as one is able to). And this I have done, although I must say after waiting for at least 9 days (during which I received no response or even acknowledgement) for the accused to comment, with what others term ‘righteous anger’ building in my loins, I had little choice but to proceed and publish this material.
Also, there is the element of common sense: which thief / conman who hasn’t yet been apprehended by the authorities or the law, and who has their liberty, will voluntarily confess of their thieving in public? That is why in legal circles evidence comes into play, because even if you deny doing it, if there is compelling evidence against you, beyond reasonable doubt, then you my friend are the one whodunnit.
But what if the evidence is fuzzy, or virtually non-existent (except for secret murmurs from fear-struck individuals who want to do what is right, but are afraid of the consequences)? And what if the conman happens to be cunning enough to cover up most (thankfully not all) of their tracks? Further, what if some of those accused are cagey about what happened (akin in opacity perhaps to the responses of US bank chiefs, when asked what they did with the bailout billions in re Troubled Assets Relief Program)? Also, consider the scenario whereby the ‘conmen’ are infact a sophisticated syndicate that includes powerful individuals within the Malawian government? Does the Malawian public still deserve to know of the allegations made against the public officials? I’ll let you think about that for a moment…
So, after much soul-searching and indeterminate hours of painful research, telephone calls and discussions with legal types, hitting several dead ends and encountering various versions of the same story (an exercise that brought to mind the irreconcilable contradictions within the Biblical gospels), I have decided that the material I hold on the Mphwiyo shooting is plausible, of journalistic significance and squarely within the public right to know. After all, much of it is already on Facebook, and this will give those without a Facebook account a piece of the action.
Further (and please feel free to excuse any appearance of narcissism here), because well-known portals for aggrieved citizens to report the wrongdoings of their governments – such as Wikileaks – are often under siege/ attack (by, surprise surprise, government agencies) and burdened by other more spurious global matters (Edward Snowden affair, Julian Assange embassy hideout et al), it may not be too bad an idea to carry their mantle (in this regard that mantle is probably only a small scarf/handkerchief) a short distance, shedding light onto corruption that has been happening in recent months in more lowly places such as in the country of Malawi.
Thankfully, there are other warriors in this battle: The Chief Mourner is one, so is Billy Mayaya, Henry Kachaje and many other honourable and brave souls. I say Kudos to them all, no doubt, they have their own reasons and motivations, possibly agendas, definitely intentions for doing what they do, and you can ask them this, but I will not pretend that I know for sure what those intentions are, except to say that they wish the best for Malawi.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The Background * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
While there has been both a positive (http://world.time.com/2013/09/15/malawi-official-who-fought-graft-shot-wounded/ ) and negative (http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/09/18/smokes-and-mirrors-unpacking-the-paul-mphwiyo-saga/ ) picture painted of the budget director Paul Mphwiyo, who was recently shot outside his home, and according to news reports because he was close to exposing corruption in top government circles, a credible source reveals there is more meat to the story.
* * * * * * * * The Story – the allegations – translated into English and with minor edits- reference date: 17th of September 2013 * * * * * * * * *
Recently Paul Mphwiyo instructed his Budget Section to fund the Pensions Section with K450million (£ 842,239.46). Because Pensions is called Below-the-line account or in other words a Statutory Account (like miscellaneous deposit or the Presidency account) which means Auditors cannot question the Funds flow in these accounts since they are statutory, Mphwiyo took advantage of this loophole.
In a bid to either please or deceive the presidency, he was informing the Secretary to the Treasury that somehow the money will find itself in the hands of Peoples Party (PP) for their election Campaign. Mphwiyo shared the money with another gentleman; one Mr. Madzi (who apparently is the Chief Accountant in Accountant General’s office). This man was given K200million (£374,164.30) and he is the one who is keeping the ‘fund’ and distributing it amongst accomplice officers at the Accountant General’s office, while Paul Mphwiyo is keeping K250million (£ 467,688.20) to distribute with accomplices including officers at the Treasury. So this idea that Mphwiyo was fighting corruption is entirely false. It appears to be a carefully crafted lie designed to either cover up or distort the real truth.
Actually, for this issue to be uncovered there was a spat within the ‘corruption syndicate’ at the Accountant General’s office, as those involved began arguing as to how the funds will be divided amongst them, until Mr. Madzi suddenly took a holiday (‘bed leave’) the whole of last week. Predictably, some of the disgruntled officers began ‘talking’ threatening that they will out the accountant, including names of ghost pensioners they collectively used to make payments to, to embezzle the money out of government coffers.
My source tells me this is the third time that K450 million has been transferred from government accounts. And interesting this is the third month that Government Ministries and Departments in Malawi have had only half of their budget funded. The excuse that was provided for the August transfer of K450 million was that there was the SADC Conference that needed to be funded.
And remember the K120 million which Patrick Sithole was arrested for several days ago? (http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/09/11/malawi-public-servant-arrested-over-k120-million-cash/ ) Well, that’s related to this scandal because Patrick Sithole worked at Accountant General’s office in the reconciliation section. Here, he was responsible for accounting reconciliation on the books from all the government Ministries. He had access rights within the government accounting system known as IFMIS, which is used in all the Ministries. Because of having such access, temptation and excitement got the better of him and he began doing unauthorised deals and transactions. In order to get money out, he needed to find companies that were willing to receive money in seemingly ‘normal looking’ transactions, but from which he would be paid a cut, dividing the funds with the owner of the company. Unfortunately, he began to ask too many people to be accomplices in his fraudulent activities, and this exposed him as word travelled around as to what he was actually doing. With such rumours circulating, a man by the name of Pika Manondo (a man with connections to Ralph Kasambara – which Kasambara denies) approached Sithole, and gave him company names, so that they could be doing the fraudulent deals together. My source informs me that they have been embezzling governments funds for quite a while now and Pika Manondo (who was in fact fired from his role at Parliament because of fraud) has become incredibly wealthy such that he has K350million (£ 654,982.14) in his bank account and owns a 15 vehicle car hire company. This wealth appears to have been accumulated from since the time Ralph Kasambara was appointed into government. So these deals extended to Ralph Kasambara and Wapona Kita (not least because some people knew that one day they will need legal protection).
These deals also involve companies belonging to Maxwell Namata (who was fired from Ministry of Housing due to fraud) [see different story implicating Namata’s company here: http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/09/19/acb-arrests-2-public-servants-on-fraud-over-k70m/ ] and Mr Hophmally Makande’s protégés??
The Problem then arose about how they will be getting funds to fund Government Ministries which then can be used to process cheques to the Companies. That’s when Ralph Kasambara approached Paul Mphwiyo as Budget Director (because it is the budget section in the Ministry of Finance that does the funding in the IFMIS system) to help with the deals. Paul Mphwiyo is not at all a clean man, and it’s only a matter of time that these investigations reveal this very fact.
In actual fact, the Toyota Fortuner which was found at Patrick Sithole area 47 residence when he got arrested, and in which they found K80 million (£149,692.71), belongs to Paul Mphwiyo.
So, for a while these deals have been going on ‘smoothly’ but of recent, Pika Manondo, Ralph Kasambara, Hophmally Makande and Maxwell Namata (as owners of companies) were not happy with how the division of funds was going. And what happened was that A WEEK BEFORE Sithole was caught, armed thugs with guns raided Sithole’s house and stole K62million (£ 119,753.14). Some insiders say it was Max, Pika and Ralph who sent these thugs to Sithole’s house. The theft can be verified with LINGADZI POLICE STATION because Sithole is said to have reported the theft to police. This also explains why Wapona Kita rushed to defend Sithole. Which is why Ralph Kasambara was so concerned that he decided to go to Paul Mphwiyo and the Reserve Bank, as Government cheques are effectively cleared through Reserve Bank of Malawi using Commercial Banks as agents.
When Paul Mphwiyo heard this, there was an argument and he began threatening Pika, Maxwell Namata, Ralph and Hophmally that he would out them unless the thugs should return the money to Sithole. Mphwiyo said he didn’t care of the consequences because after all he was not the one who personally was affecting the fund in the IFMIS system; instead it was his junior officer.
This is where things went horribly wrong, there was anger against Mphwiyo, and one night the following days, Wapona Kita and Ralph Kasambara went to the house of Paul Mphwiyo to warn him that he could be killed because Maxwell Namata, Pika Manondo and the likes of Makande were not happy. This is what led to Mphwiyos shooting and people at the Ministry of Finance know this. In fact quite a good number would be willing to verify this information in confidence, if it wouldn’t threaten their jobs and lives.
As of 18th September 2013 Pika Manondo is in South Africa and Maxwell Namata was also in South Africa, but on a trip connected to China. However, some people believe a South African assassin has been hired to kill Mphwiyo, and his life is currently in danger.
Ralph Kasambara and Wapona Kita have denied the allegations, and called them defamatory and malicious. They say these allegations come from people who wish them ill. In particular on Sithole’s K120 million case, Kita said while he is involved, it is not true that the instructions for him to represent Sithole in the case came from Kasambara as alleged. Further, Kasambara dismissed the allegations, saying he has never been to the Budget Director’s office or his house, and Mphwiyo’s CCTV [which we can assume wasn’t tampered with] can prove this.
But it remains to be seen how true some of these allegations are, more so since Pika Manondo has now been put on Interpol’s wanted list. If the above story was entirely false, how has Manondo ended up on an Interpol wanted list?? :
[**** UPDATE -30 SEPTEMBER 2013 – MAXWELL NAMATA ARRESTED **** like above, if this story was entirely false, how has Namata been arrested in connection with these allegations?]
Some people are concerned that this may just be damage limitation and that Manondo the scapegoat may take the lashes which others duly deserve. However since police investigations are ongoing, this remains to be seen.
A different version of the story (with some similar allegations and naming similar characters) appears here, on Maravi Post, titled “Marapost enquiry on malawi budget director shooting that triggered donor’s response-friday”. [Update 5th October 2013 – Theres another branch (one of many branches that show the workings of the syndicate) to the saga (now aptly named ‘Cashgate’) here. the K4.2 billion mentioned on this link is equivalent to £7,114,875.55 (Seven Million Pounds) – a hefty sum by any measure]
Whichever of the two versions is the most accurate or closer to the truth, donors are already calling for a swift probe into the matter, and have even offered help. In the interest of transparency and ‘clean hands’, president Joyce Banda would have been wise to take this opportunity to give donors unfettered access to all aspects of this case. Such an action would to an extent help restore public faith in the presidency
“ These are worrying developments that potentially risk Malawi’s stability, rule of law and reputation,” reads a statement signed by the British High Commissioner Michael Nevin, USA’s ambassador Jeanine Jackson, the head of the EU Delegation Alexander Baum, Germany Ambassador Peter Woeste, Iceland’s Maria Erla Marelsdottir, Ireland’s Liz Higgins, Japanese Envoy Fujio Samukawa and Norwegian Mission Head Asbjorn Eidhammer.
As the drama was unfolding, president Joyce Banda (whose People’s Party (PP) is implicated by the allegations in that some of the money was allegedly meant for financing PP’s 2014 election campaign) was on another trip, this time in the US, in Austin, Texas where she even managed to find time to stop by a church, en route to giving an address at the 68th session UN General Assembly. The allegation against PP has a bit of a flavor of the troubles facing Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whose brother (more allegations here), is said to have embezzled US$1 billion from Kabul Bank (in which the brother is a minority shareholder). Part of the funds were said to be for financing Karzai’s re-election. Further, it is said Afghanistan loses 25% of its GDP to corruption, a curious percentage when we’ve just been informed by Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)’s director Justice Rezine Mzikamanda recently that Malawi loses 30% of budget money to corruption.
The question remains where exactly is that money going? And why are those responsible for the embezzlement not brought to book sooner than later?
Despite her assurances that her government is committed to combatting fraud, I wonder how this scandal will play out if indeed there were some people in her party who were in complicity with the swindlers, as the allegations seem to suggest. Will Joyce Banda sack them? How so, when the likes of Ken Kandodo or Khumbo Kachali, who themselves have also had some serious allegations made against them, got to keep their jobs? And if those officials get to keep their jobs, what will have become of one of the world’s most powerful black women, as she is fondly described in some quarters [see Forbes link here]? Word in the grapevine suggests that a cabinet reshuffle is imminent.
But since it’s doubtful whether any thief can voluntarily repent, and since in ages past people in positions of authority have been known to use their influence and power to cover-up wrongdoing (see the experiences in Kenya here and here), if what really happened in this scandal is not unfurled by independent parties unconnected with the wrongdoing, only time will tell whether these allegations hold water, or are in fact false. A complete fabrication. After all, it was only many years after Dr Kamuzu Banda lost power that the scale of misappropriation of public funds that occurred under his watch was revealed. Same story for aChair, same story with Bingu.
Madame President, some of us may have liked the way you began your presidency, but what’s happening now stinks! It stinks a lot. And believe me you, if you do not do what is right to clean up your government, your day of reckoning may be a lot more damaging than that which hit aChair, or what Bingu’s estate is currently going through.
God bless you all, God bless the Republic of Malawi.