Former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s wealth came under fresh scrutiny yesterday when Mzimba West member of Parliament (MP) Harry Mkandawire (People’s Party-PP) asked government to trace and recover the estimated K61 billion estate.
Mutharika, who led the country from 2004 until his death in April 2012, is widely believed to have accumulated in excess of K61 billion in wealth stashed in several bank accounts and assets abroad.
Stirring the hornets’ nest in Parliament yesterday, Mkandawire asked Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu, in form of a statement, to inform Malawians on what government was doing to recover the money that Mutharika is alleged to have taken from public coffers.
He said: “In view of these economic times the country is going through, the Minister of Justice should tell the nation whether the current government has established and endeavour to recover unexplained wealth which was unreasonably believed to have been unlawfully obtained by the former president Bingu wa Mutharika within seven years of rule estimated at K61 million in shady deals.”
However, Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya challenged Mkandawire to provide evidence whereas Leader of the House George Chaponda said it was unfair to speak about personalities who cannot defend themselves in the House and Tembenu described the legislator’s statement as having factual errors.
Further, Mkandawire said he had evidence that the deceased president had money and assets abroad, including Australia, Zimbabwe, United States of America, South Africa and Taiwan.
He said it was important that the money is recovered to help re-energise Malawi’s ailing economy.
Mkandawire said the money should be recovered at the prevailing exchange rate, bringing the figure up to over K300 billion.
In response, Chaponda, who served as a Cabinet minister during Bingu’s reign, told the House that the way the issue was raised in Parliament was unprocedural as it could have been referred to the Business Committee first.
He argued that the matter in the House was on a person who was not present and could not defend himself; hence, he asked Mkandawire to provide evidence about the allegations.
On the other hand, Tembenu said he could not respond to the MP’s question because his statement had incorrect facts.
He said: “When you look at this question the factual basis is suspect because it is containing allegations that are not proven.”
Tembenu further said government has no evidence that money was stolen and also that there was any money outside the country
Said the minister: “We have no evidence of the shady deals from the member. Everything that is said here is simply out of speculation. It is difficult at this time for government to make a statement on matters that are factually incorrect.
“As a matter of fact there is no investigation and there is no prosecution. Nobody was prosecuted even the former president was not prosecuted for us to determine that he has taken any money. I believe it will be a little dishonourable for this House to actually carry on a debate on matters that are factually incorrect on that basis it is difficult for me as Minister of Justice to provide any explanation.”
Msowoya noted that Mkandawire had raised a point, but said the matter was supposed to be treated with care, more especially when mentioning figures and illegal transactions of someone who cannot defend himself.
Posing a question to Mkandawire, Msowoya said: “Honourable member, do you have information that government is requesting you to provide?”
In response, Mkandawire emphatically said “yes” and asked the Speaker to allow him to read through the evidence he claimed to have.
However, the Speaker told Mkandawire to submit the document to his office, that of the Leader of the House and the Leader of Opposition before it could be read out in Parliament. Mkandawire provided the documents.
Meanwhile, on point of order, Mulanje Bale MP Victor Musowa (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP), moved a motion to have the matter referred to the Business Committee of Parliament. However, the motion was defeated.
Using his discretion, the Speaker curtailed debate and said it could be resumed in future once the documents were authenticated as original.
He said: “The documents lack authenticity. They are photocopied.”
The House nearly degenerated into chaos as Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati, rising on a point of order, questioned the PP administration for not investigating the matter in the two years it was in power.
She then alleged that former president Joyce Banda is the one who stole money and was residing outside the country.