About three years ago, I sold a car I had bought four years earlier. Then two weeks ago, having arrived in Blantyre late at night after a bus ride from Lilongwe, I decided to hire a taxi.
As usual, I was mobbed by various cab drivers jostling to offer the service of taking me home.
I picked a clean shaven, less menacing fellow because his more refined outlook gave me some level of confidence that I would be safe—I had no intention of arriving home in a body bag or without my luggage in which assorted toys I had promised my children were carefully packed.
I vowed that no one would deprive me of the “hero looks” I always see in my little ones’ eyes whenever I bring them gifts from my travels.
I jumped into the taxi and 15 minutes later I was home. As I fumbled in my wallet in search of money to pay, I intuitively looked up and run my eyes over the cab.
I could not help but notice that the car looked familiar. The more I looked, the more convinced I got that this was my old Toyota Carina. I could even swear on my mother’s grave if that was necessary.
I checked the registration number, it was the same. Whoever bought this vehicle never bothered to change the registration. I felt a pang, naturally, but that was all.
I shrugged my shoulders, paid the driver and walked into my bedroom after which I had a sound and dreamless sleep. No big deal. No worries.
I am sure that even if someone found me riding the taxi that used to be my car and asked me to confirm that I had hired a car that was once mine, I would happily do so. Why deny? There is nothing to hide, right?
It would not matter if at the time of selling the vehicle I had told my wife that we would be using public transport.
It was late at night and there was no other mode of transport and I had to be home! My wife cannot expect me to sleep in the bus depot till dawn when minibuses start plying their trade.
So, why did the Joyce Banda administration—specifically State House and the Ministry of Information—get hot and bothered over the fact that the President has used a chartered plane that also happened to be the old presidential jet Dassault Falcon 900 EX she had sold and after which she had vowed to fly commercial to cut costs? Indeed, why deny?
The first denial was from State House, which declared the Nation on Sunday story untrue. In fact, added State House press secretary Steven Nhlane, the jet was not being provided by the Malawi Government, so taxpayers need not worry.
Okay, but who is providing the jet? Well-wishers, we were told curtly. Who are these well-wishers?
“You do not have to know them,” retorted Nhlane. “Besides, they have told us not to disclose their identities. That is what friends are meant for, helping each other,” he said.
After publishing our first investigative story on the matter with clear evidence that the jet was the same, Nhlane started ducking questions in subsequent series.
Then the Ministry of Information took over, releasing a long-winded media statement that even got the original jet’s registration wrong.
The statement denied that the President ever used the jet and, of course, railed against Nation on Sunday for what they considered to be shoddy work of journalism.
“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 Nation on Sunday Newspaper of 22nd December 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,” said the statement.
Then early this week—after we published more evidence confirming that indeed the plane was sold but that President Banda had used it thrice after the disposal—a statement from Bohnox Enterprises Limited of British Virgin Islands, which bought the jet at $15 million dollars (roughly K6.7 billion at present exchange rates) in July this year, just confirmed everything that Nation on Sunday has published in its jet series.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, this Falcon 900 EX, Serial Number 38, was sold by the Government of Malawi to our organisation,” said the company in a statement released through the Ministry of Information.
For the record, the controversial ZS-FCI, a Falcon 900 EX which President Banda has used, shares this serial number so does the 7Q-ONE, the sold jet.
In other words, the Bohnox Enterprises statement has confirmed very clearly that their ZS-FCI and the 7Q-ONE that the Banda administration sold are one and the same, thereby jettisoning the jet narrative that the President’s handlers have been pushing, albeit unsuccessfully.
But the question is: Why didn’t the administration just come out in the open to confirm simple facts at the onset? Why try to cover it up?
The answer, as we will find out, lies in the secret “well-wisher” and his or her not-so-philanthropic motives. It also lies in what President Banda and her People’s Party may stand to gain from the arrangement.
As a media house, we have a duty to unveil this well-wisher before it is too late. And we will.