The Joyce Banda administration has lied so much on the usage and sale of the presidential jet that its lies have started lying to each other as well.
At the centre of these lying lies is Information and Civic Education Minister Brown Mpinganjira who—if he had any trace of integrity left in him—should have resigned forthwith for deliberately fooling Malawians. He should also issue an unconditional apology to all of us while at it.
Two others who should hang their heads in abject shame are State House press secretary Steven Nhlane and Chief Secretary Hawa Ndilowe for the roles they played in this grand conspiracy that is probably the country’s biggest uncovered cover-up.
The President too should be whipped for abdicating her duty as the custodian of government accountability and for her gross incompetence in not knowing—if anyone can believe that hodgepodge—how the proceeds from the jet sale were handled.
Not only did it take months for her to come clean, but when she finally said something, she came out so dirty at her press conference that a zipped mouth could have served her better. I mean, even Bakili Muluzi was not this bad, this clueless; this dodgy; this incompetent.
You see, when Nation on Sunday broke the story that the President had been using the same executive jet she had sold, the Ministry of Information released a statement that, among other lies, said: “The public may wish to know that the State President has not at any moment during her last trips used a chartered plane that was formerly owned by the Government of Malawi as reported in the Nation on Sunday newspaper of December 22 2013. The referred to plane is a different plane whose details are available. It is always the expectation of government that the media shall verify before publishing government information with relevant government departments, in this case the Department of Civil Aviation.”
As it turned out, it was Mpinganjira’s Information Ministry that desperately needed basic lessons in information authentification because when the same paper investigated the matter further and reported that the President had used the plane three times out of the 20 she had flown chartered planes; government swallowed its vomit and confessed that indeed Mrs. Banda had used the same presidential jet she sold.
When Nation on Sunday’s investigative project on the jet moved on to find out the real buyers of the jet and established that it was Paramount Group—the same company that paid for Mrs. Banda’s global public relations adventures and pocketed billions of kwachas in military contracts with the Malawi Defence Force (MDF)—Mpinganjira once again hyperbolically declared that Nation on Sunday was lying, claiming that Paramount and Bohnox Enterprises Limited have nothing in common.
Well, we now know who the habitual liar is thanks to Finance Minister Maxwell Mkwezalamba who said at a press conference in Lilongwe on Wednesday that Capital Hill forfeited most of the jet sale proceeds because government owed Paramount a lot of money in defence equipment. He also said government realised later in the game that Paramount owned Bohnox. In other words, the two firms are one and the same; hence, it was possible to barter the jet for battered military gear.
This part also has a trail of lies. If the jet was bartered, why did Mpinganjira go all over the media claiming that government used the money to buy maize, drugs and those things he foamed about? Why was this information not provided earlier? What was someone afraid of? Where is the documentation showing involvement of the Attorney General in the ancient barter trade?
Even Mkwezalamba’s explanation on the transactions of the $4 million from MDF to drugs is unsatisfactory. Unless the Minister of Finance provides a paper trail of how the $4 million was moved around to find its way to drugs, my stance is that this money has either been mismanaged or somehow found its way into somebody’s campaign kitty.
The list of lies is long.
When Nation on Sunday exposed that the jet money was nowhere to be seen, the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) claimed the money was put in an offshore account. “The proceeds, therefore, went into a government foreign account so that it would be easier to use the forex and not externalise any forex. This is just an accounting matter.” This written response was sent by OPC spokesperson Arthur Chipenda and, no, no one should tell me that Arthur sent out this without his bosses knowing. It is another lie because this response came straight from his bosses and Arthur only relayed it.
Having worked as spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance, I know that no such statement can be sent to the media without being vetted and approved at the highest level in OPC.
But guess what Chief Secretary Ndilowe did on Wednesday? She threw poor Arthur under the bus, saying the young man just dreamed up that response and dispatched it to us. Ndilowe should be ashamed of her behaviour.
Oh, wait, maybe Ndilowe took it after her boss. President Banda—instead of dealing with the crisis of lies suffocating her administration—accused former Secretary to the Treasury Randson Mwadiwa of leaking the jet deal information.
We all know that in the last two years, President Banda has chalked up an impressive and weighty list of scandals, incidences of incompetence and oversights that the media have exposed.
Is the President telling us that long-serving public servant Mwadiwa has been the ‘Deep Throat’ behind the letting out of all these transgressions of hers that include Cashgate? Come on, Madam, give us some credit!
Sometimes, Mrs. Banda’s misguided defiance on scandalous matters surprises me. But at the rate the President’s recalcitrance is growing, I am afraid she may be in for some free fall. Her bungling and sybaritic approach to addressing the biggest issues of the day are exposing her to questions about her competence and honesty—all of which could have a cascading effect on her presidency and hurt her chances of retaining it.