Malawi President Joyce Banda on Thursday made public the detailed commission of inquiry report into circumstances surrounding the death of her predecessor. The report, among others, has exposed hypocrisy and panic among Cabinet ministers, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) heavyweights as well as some top government officials.
Upon learning about the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in the capital, Lilongwe, his brother, Peter Mutharika, according to a Commission Inquiry Report, called the Chief Secretary to the Government Bright Msaka aside and asked him if it would not be a good idea for the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) to take over government.
The report said Peter Mutharika wondered what was going to happen in the country, in terms of succession, considering that Joyce Banda, then Vice-President who was constitutionally mandated to takeover, had left the ruling party and formed her own opposition political party.
Reads the report: “The Chief Secretary told the commission that he advised [Peter] Mutharika that it was not a good idea. The Chief Secretary told the commission that having heard the suggestion of an army take over from Mutharika, he became uncomfortable.
“He [said he] proceeded to meet the Malawi Defence Force Commander General Henry Odillo, who was still at the hospital at that time. The Chief Secretary asked General Odillo whether the army understood its role in times of such events. He also asked the General if he understood what the Constitution said in the event of the death of the President.”
But Peter Mutharika denied, before the commission, having ever at any point discussed the idea of the military takeover with Msaka.
However, Msaka further told the commission that it was clear from the response of General Odillo that the military in Malawi correctly understood not only its role in the situation, but also the constitutional provisions in the event of death of the President.
Further reads the report: “He [Msaka] told the commission that the response by General Odillo gave him some comfort in the way his office would handle the development.”
But the same afternoon of April 5 2012, when Bingu died, Msaka called then Attorney General (AG) Maxon Mbendera (now Supreme Court of Appeal Judge) to a meeting at his (Msaka’s) house.
During their meeting, according to the report, Msaka, without disclosing to Mbendera that Bingu had died, sought a legal opinion on what would be the way forward following Bingu’s illness as he was not giving the late president a chance of survival.
The report says Mbendera told the commission that when he was leaving Msaka’s house at that point, he got the impression that the president was incapacitated by the illness, but had not died.
Mbendera proceeded to his office where with his staff, he considered the issue of incapacitation of the President. At around 6pm on the same day, the AG verbally advised Msaka that in the event of the President’s incapacitation, Joyce Banda, would have to take over as Acting President in accordance with Section 87 of the Constitution.
Meeting at Hon. Peter Mutharika’s House
As had been resolved at the meeting among the three senior government officials held in the office of the KCH director, a meeting was convened at the residence of Peter Mutharika in Lilongwe’s Area 43.
Odillo and then inspector general (IG) of Police, Peter Mukhito, were invited.
The meeting was thus attended by Mutharika, then minister of Energy and Environment Goodall Gondwe, Msaka, Odillo and Mukhito.
The report discloses that Msaka told the commission that at the meeting, Peter Mutharika asked Odillo and Mukhito whether they were going to stand with the government in the crisis.
Msaka informed the commission that he told the meeting that his view was that, firstly, the two officers had not had time to meet their men and brief them about the situation. Secondly, Msaka said that he had already advised the two to follow the side that was consistent with the law.
According to Msaka, both the MDF Commander and the IG agreed with his position.
However, Msaka’s testimony on the position that he indicated to have taken was not corroborated by the testimony of any of the persons who attended the meeting, notes the report.
Observes the report: “When the Chief Secretary was recalled to the commission to shed more light on this matter, he told the commission that he did not remember any substantive discussions at the meeting held at Hon. Mutharika’s house and did not believe that the Army was asked to take over the country.
“He stated that nobody talked about the Army taking over government. He further stated that, at the meeting, Hon. Mutharika was seeking an opinion on what should be done in the circumstances.
“However, he maintained his assertion during his earlier testimony to the commission that Mutharika did approach him at the hospital on 5th April 2012 on what the Chief Secretary thought about the Army taking over.”
Odillo told the commission that the meeting at Mutharika’s house was chaired by Gondwe.
The MDF Commander told the commission that Gondwe asked how the situation would be handled.
The report quotes Odillo: “Now, he [Gondwe] approached me with some suggestions that the military should make an announcement and after making an announcement possibly take over the situation of the country until such a time that the political party organised themselves and then later on take over the leadership or power.
Odillo further told the commission that the following day, in the evening, he received five phone calls which he identified as coming from Peter Mutharika’s phone, which he ignored.
He said shortly after the last call, he received a call from Msaka asking him whether he had received some calls on his phone which he did not answer, if he knew who was calling him and why he was not picking up the calls.
Odillo told the commission that he told the Chief Secretary that he knew that the phone calls were coming from Peter Mutharika and he said that he felt he had nothing to say to him.
But Peter Mutharika, in his testimony before the commission when the question of the phone calls to Odillo was put to him, vehemently denied having ever called the MDF Commander on the evening of April 6.
Upon recall on the matter of Army takeover, Odillo maintained that at the meeting held at Peter Mutharika’s house, Gondwe, who presided over the meeting, mentioned that there was going to be bloodshed in the country and wondered what the Army could do.
According to Odillo, Gondwe went further and said that the military should proceed and make an announcement and that it should control the political situation in the country.
On the issue of the meeting at Peter Mutharika’s house, Gondwe told the commission that he could recall that he got a call around 4.15pm reminding him about the meeting.
The report says Gondwe confirmed the attendance of the five of them at the meeting, that is, Mutharika, Msaka, Odillo, Mukhito and himself.
According to Gondwe, the Chief Secretary did most of the talking. He briefed them about what had happened and told the meeting that they should be prepared and be ready to deal with the situation.
Upon recall on the meeting, Gondwe confirmed that during the discussions at the hospital earlier in the afternoon, it was observed that there was a possibility of disorder in the country, says the report.
In his testimony, Mukhito at his first appearance before the commission, said the discussion at Peter Mutharika’s house was about the readiness of the two security branches to handle the security situation.
But the report says Mukhito was not clear on the issue of the Army take over, the first time that he appeared before the commission.
The commission reviewed the strength of the MDF Commander’s evidence, recalled Mukhito specifically for him to elaborate on his earlier statement about the Army coming in should there be chaos.
When the commission asked the former IG whether during that meeting the MDF Commander was asked if the Army was ready to run the affairs of State, he responded: “But now I think it was between Honourable Gondwe and Honourable Professor there was that mention to say if we take this matter to court obviously there was going to be a reaction and now when that reaction comes, are you as the Army ready to take over.
“That was really mentioned and it came from I think in between the two Honourable Professor and Honourable Gondwe. Yes, that was mentioned.”