President Peter Mutharika’s call two weeks ago for a probe into the sale of the presidential jet signifies a discord in how the State machinery relays information.
The President claimed at a press briefing in Lilongwe on December 14 that he was ignorant of the details of the sale of the jet by the Joyce Banda administration.
Yet in June last year, Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe announced, “We will launch investigations into the sale of the jet.”
Six months later, December 2014, Treasury confirmed that the probe was going on well.
But government’s spokesperson Jappie Mhango has since defended Mutharika’s call for a fresh probe, saying there was need for a comprehensive investigation.
Nation on Sunday in October this year reported that government has been making secret payments to Paramount Group, the company that purchased the jet, attracting the wrath of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the process as the move breached conditions of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF).
The move also prompted IMF managing director Christine Lagarde to write Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe and Reserve Bank Governor Charles Chuka, demanding answers.
Asked why the President called for a probe when last year Treasury had also started probing the issue, State House press secretary Gerald Viola pushed the matter to Mhango, arguing the matter was government related and not concerning the presidency only.
“Only the government spokesperson can ably handle the matter because it involves several government departments,” said Viola.
On his part, Mhango defended the order for a probe, but could not say whether there had been another probe, stating that “inquiries have been made which have necessitated the need for a comprehensive investigation.”
“There are two versions to this issue; we want to establish what happened and whether the jet was sold legally or not. We have a situation where the same office, two people are giving contradicting information so the President has rightly ordered that we should have an investigation into what happened. As soon as we get to the bottom of the matter, it will be made public,” said Mhango.
The Mutharika administration, which previously said it would cancel all government contracts the company signed during the Banda regime, has so far paid Paramount Group about K15 billion (about $23million) for the same.
But Mhango said the continued ties with the company would not jeopardise the investigations on the matter as the administration is just forced by contractual obligations made by the PP administration.
Gondwe, who made the announcement of the investigations in November 2014, barely a few days after launching a fresh forensic audit over Cashgate, referred Nation on Sunday to OPC on the matter.
“Yes, I said government will probe the matter, but OPC is the one in charge. I cannot speak anything on the matter you have to speak to the Chief Secretary on the matter,” said Gondwe.
Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya, who was quoted in The Nation of December 27 2014 last year as saying “we have been making progress,” also said there were no indications at Treasury that a probe took place.
“You need to perhaps check with OPC. Here, I don’t recall anything about an investigation,” said Msowoya.
Mkondiwa said he could not comment on the matter referring Nation on Sunday to Jappie Mhango.
While initially the Banda administration claimed it had sold the jet at $15 million and used the proceeds to procure arms and maize, following a number of investigative stories that dismissed the assertion, the administration through the task force finally confirmed that the jet was traded off to offset a debt the government owed to Paramount Group—as first reported by Nation on Sunday.
The Banda administration then further claimed it was not aware that Bohnet was part of the Paramount Group. n