Former president Joyce Banda says she is not cowed by the prospect of a probe into her administration’s decision to sell the presidential jet in 2013 as proposed by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament.
Banda expressed the sentiments in an interview on Tuesday in reaction to a decision by PAC which wants to conduct a public inquiry into the matter. The committee has since written the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to inquire on events surrounding the transaction.
PAC chairperson Shadreck Namalomba on Monday said Treasury responded to their query, indicating that it was not involved in the transaction.
During the interview, Banda—who served as president between April 2012 and May 2014—said she was surprised that the Ministry of Finance was feigning ignorance on the matter when in 2014 it issued a statement about the whole deal.
She said: “The sale of the presidential jet was a Cabinet decision. Once the Cabinet approves the matter, it goes to the secretariat, Ministry of Finance, Solicitor General and no asset leaves our borders without the Attorney General sanctioning.
“I am surprised [that Treasury says it does not know anything] because at the time, there were a lot of press releases on the process [of the sale] in the media, including the print media.”
Banda said all people who were involved in the transaction were “alive and well” to give more details on the deal. She said such public officers include former OPC Principal Secretary (Administration) Clement Chinthu Phiri and former chief secretaries to the government—now renamed Secretary to the President and Cabinet— Bright Msaka and Hawa Ndilowe.
When contacted for comments on Tuesday, the three separately refused to provide any detail on the matter.
Chinthu Phiri said: “I retired three years ago and I don’t want to be involved in any of this. By the way, that matter was not handled by my office, but that of the chief secretary.”
Namalomba on Monday said the country was still in the dark on the sale of the jet; hence, the need to conduct a public inquiry to establish what really happened.
He said: “Malawians should know whether the presidential jet was disposed of in good faith, whether there was corruption involved or some people benefitted unfairly from the jet sale.
“If in the end some people did benefit, then they must pay back the money. If criminal merit is considered, then they must be prosecuted. That jet was a national asset.”
Namalomba further said PAC was already behind schedule on the presidential jet inquiry and that as soon as OPC gives a response, the public inquiry will start.
In an interview on Monday, Secretary to the Treasury Chancy Simwaka confirmed receiving the letter from PAC and said Treasury had already responded to the PAC query.
“I can confirm that PAC wrote us, and we responded to them. If you want our responses, then check with PAC,” he said.
Secretary to President and Cabinet Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi did not pick up his mobile phones on several attempts.
In 2009, the Bingu wa Mutharika administration purchased the presidential jet at an estimated cost of K16 billion ($22 million), which was later sold during Banda’s administration. It was indicated that part of the proceeds were used to purchase maize.
Banda’s administration argued at the time that the plane was a burden to the economy with annual running costs estimated at over K200 million.
In March 2014 , contrary to earlier claims that the proceeds from the jet sale were used for maize purchases, former minister of Finance Maxwell Mkwezalamba said that the $15 million (about K6.3 billion) did not go into the Malawi Government’s consolidated account.
He said instead the Attorney General facilitated the transfer of the funds from Bohnox Enterprises, which bought the jet, to Paramount Group, its parent company.
Mkwezalamba said government owed Paramount Group $19.2 million (about K8.2 billion) in respect of military equipment procured sometime back.
He said government cash flow could not meet the demand for payment of the equipment.