Former Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda is under preliminary investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly diverting an official Speaker’s residence project to his personal benefit.
Documents we have seen indicate that the Ombudsman received a complaint on the matter and has since written the Clerk of Parliament (CoP) seeking information surrounding the construction of Parliament Building in Lilongwe by the Chinese Government.
The house, located in Area 10 low density residential estate, is said to have been part of the New Parliament Building Project package, according to the complainants.
While Nation Online could not independently verify the allegations the Ombudsman is pursuing, Office of the Ombudsman spokesperson Arthur Semba on Thursday confirmed that the office has written CoP Fiona Kalemba requesting information on the matter.
He said: “We have received an allegation and after it came through as a complaint, the Ombudsman wrote the Clerk of Parliament.”
Kalemba could not be immediately reached for comment as she was reported to be abroad.
But Chimunthu Banda, who is back in Parliament as Nkhotakota North legislator after a five-year break between 2014 and May 2019, laughed off the allegations in an interview on Thursday. He said he welcomed the probe as it would prove his innocence.
He said: “I will not dignify such blatant falsehoods with comment. If the Ombudsman wants to do an investigation, I welcome it.”
The preliminary probe comes at a time the Office of the Ombudsman has intensified investigations into various cases of suspected abuse of power. The office is also investigating various local councils over fears of financial mismanagement.
The letter from the Ombudsman, dated October 11 2019, quotes the complainant(s) as alleging possible abuse by Chimunthu Banda who served as Speaker between 2009 and 2014.
Reads the letter in part: “My office is in receipt of a complaint alleging conduct akin to abuse of office on the part of the former Speaker of Parliament Rt Hon Chimunthu Banda. The complaint alleges that the construction of New Parliament Building package included the construction of an institutional house for the Speaker of the National Assembly. The expectation there was that the house was built on a separate designated plot.
“However, the complaint alleges that the house was built on a personal plot belonging to Rt Hon Chimunthu Banda and that he continues to occupy the house.
“Consequently, government has had to spend more money to rent houses to subsequent Speakers of Parliament with Rt Hon Richard Msowoya [May 2014 to May 2019] living in a rented house in Area 10 and Rt Hon Catherine Gotani Hara [elected in June 2019] now living in a rented house in Area 12.”
The letter further says the Ombudsman requires information from Parliament to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to launch an official investigation.
Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Lilongwe yesterday asked for more time to comment on the matter. However, they had not yet responded to a questionnaire on the matter as we went to press.
In a separate interview, Msowoya, who was a deputy Cabinet minister during the first term of then president Bingu waMutharika from 2004 to 2009, yesterday said he never saw any official documents on the matter during his tenure as Speaker.
But he said he recalled hearing about a parliamentary village as part of the Parliament Building being discussed within the Executive arm of government during an official meeting when he served as deputy minister.
“Cabinet was informed that the building project will also have a parliamentary village with houses for the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Clerk of Parliament. But I have never followed up on the matter or came across any documentation about the project even when I served as Speaker,” said Msowoya.
Current Ombudsman Martha Chizuma has transformed the office from previous portfolio of addressing workplace-related complaints to complex investigations into financial abuse, inefficiencies and corruption in government.
In 2013, Chimunthu Banda, who was elected in 2009 as chairperson of the 19-member Commonwealth Parliamentary Association when he served as Speaker, contested for the leadership of governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and lost to President Peter Mutharika ahead of the 2014 Tripartite Elections.