Taxpayers’ will have to fork millions of kwacha to finance the statue for the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, which government intends to erect at Parliament building in Lilongwe by December this year, Nation on Sunday has learnt.
Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has since described the decision to erect the statue now, in honour of what government terms “Bingu’s great contributions to the country’s political and socio-economic sectors”, as a sign of mixing priorities at the time government is struggling to finance its own budget.
Nation on Sunday has established that government has engaged renowned South African Sculptor Jean Doyle Artistic Works Holdings Limited, who designed founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s statue which stands at the Memorial Tower in Area 18, Lilongwe.
When we called the artist—Jean Doyle last Saturday, to hear progress on the construction works, she indicated that she was expected to meet the government delegation that went to appreciate the same last Monday. Doyle also expressed optimism that she will meet the December deadline to complete construction of the statue.
“We finished the original cast and the contingent of your people are coming on Monday. I have just made a few changes they suggested. Your people are coming on Monday to have a look at it and then we will do the final works. I have also told the minister that they will get it by December,” she said.
When we asked, later, about the cost of the construction, in an e-mail response Doyle said: “Unfortunately, we are not permitted to give out any information on this until it has been unveiled in Malawi in December. We will be happy to give you an interview after this date”.
While government has not made any public announcement on the development, officials from government have been travelling to South Africa to supervise the work, with the latest trip taking place last week.
Nation on Sunday has seen a draft letter from the Ministry of Civic Education and Culture dated July 18 2018, from Principal Secretary Ivy Luhanga, seeking clearance of a delegation led by Minister Grace Chiumia to travel to South Africa to assess and approve the statue cast, which is under construction in Cape Town, South Africa.
According to the letter, government received communication from the sculptor on July 16 2018, inviting it to assess the clay casting before bronze manufacturing for final process of the statue of Bingu who died after a cardiac arrest on April 5 2012.
“Sir, my ministry received communication from the sculptor on July 16 2018 that the initial process of clay moulding has been completed. To this effect, government has been invited to make final and last changes to details of the mould before giving approval to the sculptor to start cutting the bronze to finish,” reads the memo in part.
The actual cost of the statue could not be ascertained as government officials were not readily available on the matter though, according to reports, the Kamuzu Banda statue erected in 2009 cost K87 million ($120 000), meaning the Bingu one might cost more.
When Nation on Sunday called Chiumia, she said she was not aware of plans to honour the President’s brother and that she never went to South Africa for anything related to the statue.
“No, I went for other business, not statue, who told you? The person who told you let him explain, I went for other things. Who said so? From who? People sometimes give false information and the minister knows nothing. Seriously, I went for other business,” claimed Chiumia.
But well-placed sources told Nation on Sunday that the minister’s entourage was supposed to include officials from the Culture Ministry, Department of Museums and Monuments, Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), Ministry of Transport, Building Department and a representative of the Mutharika’s family.
The letter from Luhanga also indicated the significance of having a member of the Mutharika family as part of the entourage.
“At this stage of the project, a member of the family of the late president professor Bingu wa Mutharika is expected to accompany the honourable minister to verify if the cast mould is indeed a true reflection of the image of the late President,” reads the memo from Luhanga to the President.
This is not the first time government officials had travelled to South Africa for such purpose. The ministry also funded and undertook another trip last year and this is highlighted as one of the major achievements in the 2017/18 Budget Document number five; Draft Estimates of Expenditure on Recurrent and Capital Budget for the Financial Year 2018/2019 (Program Based Budget).
“The ministry undertook a reconnaissance trip to three bronze art foundries in South Africa to source a statue of the former President of the Republic of Malawi His Excellency the Late Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika,” reads the statement in the highlighted budget document.
When contacted for comment, director for the Department of Monuments and Museums Elizabeth Gomani said she was not aware of plans to construct the statue. PS Luhanga also could not respond to our questions when we called her three times promising to respond to our questionnaire submitted over a week ago. Public relations officer for the ministry, Alick Kampeza, sounded helpless each time we called to check on our questionnaire, saying the minister was yet to approve the responses to our questionnaire.
But MCP spokesperson on Finance in Parliament Alexander Kusamba Dzodzi said as the opposition, they have no information about plans to erect Bingu’s statue, but questioned whether it was a priority.
“But if the money was allocated in the budget that’s fine. [However] One would still have questions on the tendering process how did they do it? What makes me worried is the way sometimes information is presented in budget documents. There is a lot of secrecy sometimes on some dealings.
“But if you ask me if the statue is necessary, one would say Bingu was a great guy who did his part. He had a brain, of course, he also had his flaws. [But] Looking at the economy, would one say erecting a statue is a priority when people are dying in hospitals? When the country is experiencing blackouts? I would say this is not the priority. It is even coming at a wrong time when the government has become famous for stealing. One would say the statue is not a priority,” he said.
Kusamba-Dzonzi urged government to be more open when handling such matters, saying it is taxpayers’ money; hence people have a right to know about any development.
Apart from Kamuzu Banda, government has on several occasions announced plans to construct a mausoleum for the late Chakukwa Chihana. But despite the many pronouncements on Chihana’s mausoleum, there has been nothing on the ground for years now.
Minutes we have seen from the ministry responsible for culture indicate that during consultations in 2010 at Chancellor College on the proposed mausoleum for Chihana as well as establishment of a heroes’ acre, stakeholders asked government to develop clear guidelines on who qualifies to be a national hero worth honouring with a statue or monument.
Commenting on the issue, University of Malawi historian Chijere Chirwa, who was part of the consultations, said the country needed to develop clear guidelines on who deserves to be honoured other than leaving it open.
Chirwa cited as an example the Bingu directive to have Kamuzu Banda honoured as problematic.
“Kamuzu deserves honour for some people, while others would have a problem. So, if we have guidelines, it won’t matter whether one has a problem or not,” said Chirwa. n