President Peter Mutharika has queried the United States of America (USA) over its decision to ban his special adviser on parliamentary affairs Uladi Mussa and his spouse for his alleged “involvement in significant corruption”.
In an interview yesterday, Presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) will soon engage the USA Embassy in Lilongwe to seek an explanation on the decision.
In a July 3 2019 statement, USA said its Department of State had banned Mussa, who is also governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice-president for the Central Region, based on Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Act of 2019 which empowers the Secretary of State to act in that manner where there is “credible information that foreign officials have been involved in significant corruption or gross violations of human rights”. Effectively, Mussa, his spouse and immediate family are ineligible for entry into USA.
Kalilani, who confirmed receipt of the official communication on Mussa’s status, said the decision was based on allegations that Mussa was involved and benefited from significant corruption while serving as minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security in 2013.
He said: “You may recall that honourable Uladi Mussa has never served as Home Affairs minister in Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika’s administration.
“The OPC would also like to appreciate why a decision based on Mussa’s service in [former president] Dr. Joyce Banda’s administration six years ago has been made now.
“The government to government engagement on the matter would help both sides appreciate the decision’s underlying issues and the merit therein. Only then shall the President hold an opinion.”
In an earlier interview with The Nation, US Embassy public affairs officer Douglas Johnston justified the decision against Mussa when the case is not concluded in court, saying the US has acted “following credible information” that the presidential aide was involved in significant corruption while serving as Cabinet minister.
He dismissed suggestions that Mussa was unfairly targeted, saying the Department of State actively reviews cases and applies such authority globally.
Said Johnston: “Depending on the particular circumstances, some designations are done publicly while others are done privately.”
On what would happen if local courts clear Mussa of the charges, Johnston said the Department of State respects the sovereign law and justice system of Malawi.
In an interview soon after the statement was issued, Mussa, whom Mutharika on June 19 this year appointed as his special adviser on parliamentary affairs, said he was surprised with the decision because the matter is not concluded in court.
He said: “The decision is totally wrong. Nobody is guilty until proven guilty by the court of law. I did my noble duty as a minister and as far as I am concerned, I am innocent.”
Mussa, who said he did not plan to travel to the USA anytime soon, is answering charges of aiding about 55 foreign nationals from Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda to illegally obtain Malawian passports and business permits when he served as minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security in 2013.
Meanwhile, Mzuzu-based civil society organisation Youth and Society (YAS) has asked Malawi’s bilateral partners, including the European Union (EU), Britain and Norway, to join the US Government in the best interest of the people of Malawi.
In a statement, YAS executive director Charles Kajoloweka said: “We also call upon President Peter Mutharika, who is no doubt aware of Mussa’s corruption scandal, to honourably relieve him of his duties as his special adviser pending the determination by the court.”
But Kalilani said Mutharika cannot make a decision on Mussa now before getting enough information.
Reacting to the USA government decision, governance analyst Henry Chingaipe said the development does not reflect well on the Malawi Government.
He said: “This should also act as a message to the President to think seriously of the integrity of a person when making appointments because the position of presidential adviser is significant.”
In recent years, Malawi has scored poorly on both local and international corruption perception surveys. Authorities have come under fire for a lukewarm approach to corruption.
However, the President has consistently dismissed existence of corruption, branding the perception a creation of the media and some civil society activists.
Under a US government-sponsored grant, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) scorecard for 2018 Malawi slipped downwards on the control of corruption indicator from 87 percent five years ago to 59 percent.