- Retired chief justice pens donors
- DPP denies plot against her
Retired chief justice Richard Banda has written foreign missions and development partners in the country, asking them to intervene in “repeated political harassment and persecution” of his wife, former president Joyce Banda (JB), by the Peter Mutharika administration.
In a letter dated May 13 2015, the former chief justice says the family is convinced that “the many unsubstantiated accusations and allegations” could be a precursor to much more sinister motives.
“We are convinced that the ill-treatment that Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda is suffering at the hands of the DPP government and the many unsubstantiated accusations and allegations by the government against the former president could be a precursor to much more sinister motives. Lives could be at stake here!”
In the letter, the retired chief justice is imploring development partners and the international community to engage the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to stop what he described as witch-hunting, victimisation and persecution against JB.
The letter clearly states its objective as bringing to the attention of the international community and donors attempts by the DPP government to victimise the former president for political reasons.
“Malawians remember very well that when Her Excellency Joyce Banda was Vice-President, the DPP government, under the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, withdrew part of her security detail. A few days after the withdrawal of security, in November 2010, the Vice-President’s official vehicle…was hit on the side she sat at Kanengo as she returned from Kamuzu International Airport. Luckily, she survived because she had used a different vehicle.
“A few weeks ago, the DPP government also withdrew part of Her Excellency’s security. As a family, we fear that history may repeat itself. It has become a matter of urgency on the part of my family to implore upon you and the entire international community to take note of the DPP machinations against Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda and hopefully take unequivocal action against this frightening conduct by the DPP government. My family is grossly concerned that Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda’s own life might be in danger,” reads the letter in part.
Chief Secretary to the Government George Mkondiwa on Friday declined to comment on the matter and referred queries to newly appointed Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango.
Mhango also refused to comment, saying he was new in the office and was yet to be appraised of the matter.
But DPP spokesperson Francis Kasaila yesterday said the position of party and Muthalika is that she has nothing to fear.
In MBC TV’s ‘Meet the President’ programme last week, Mutharika said he had no grudges against the former president and she is free to return.
Kasaila further denied an allegation contained in the letter that the DPP government has been trying to implicate her in Cashgate—the systematic looting of public funds at Capital Hill by civil servants, politically aligned businesspeople and others that unravelled in September 2013 when JB was president of Malawi.
“It was not DPP that insinuated about her involvement in Cashgate; it was her People’s Party faithful who are implicating her. Besides, lying to donors that the government would like to persecute her is not a welcome development,” said Kasaila.
JB left Malawi in September 2014 and is yet to return. A widely held view is that she fears arrest related to Cashgate, after key suspect, Oswald Lutepo, named her as a major beneficiary of the looted public funds, an allegation she strongly denies.
Banda’s letter to the international community has cited several examples to substantiate claims of imminent danger. Among others, the letter says the DPP government pressurised Lutepo to deliberately implicate the former president.
Banda also points to an allegation President Mutharika made at Maula Prison in March as unsettling. Mutharika claimed that the former president had planned to kill him when he was arrested on alleged coup plot charges in March 2013. Without substantiating his claim, Mutharika said fake doctors had been hired to poison him while in police custody and that he was shown sworn affidavits of the alleged fake doctors.
The letter makes much of a string of outbursts by the former minister of Information, Kondwani Nankhumwa, who is on record as saying CCTV footage was available to substantiate claims by the now-convicted Lutepo, showing the latter handing over cash to JB.
But in an email interview on Thursday, the former president declined to shed more light on the letter, saying its author was better placed to comment on its contents.
“The letter you are talking about was not written by me, so it would be wrong for me to respond to a letter written by somebody else,” she said.
While she points to the withdrawal of her security vehicle as a sign of intentions to harm her, the government did explain at the time of the withdrawal that the benefit was available to her as the former head of State and that in her absence, it was only proper that the benefit be withdrawn.
On Banda’s complaints in the letter that government has not paid “any of her retirement benefits, including accommodation, transport and salary since she left office in May 2014”, Kasaila said government would not provide the benefit “to a person who is globetrotting”.
“Let her come, she will be accorded all the respect she deserves,” said Kasaila, who is also Minister of Transport and Public Works.
JB has never explained reasons for her failure to come back home. Her husband attributes her absence in the letter to her hectic schedule to attend to speaking engagements in America, Europe and Africa.
“She has also been fulfilling a number of speaking engagements in Europe, Africa and America. Above all, Her Excellency has been away for such a long time to provide the stage for the incumbent Head of State to govern this country without looking over his shoulders,” reads the letter.
But the former president failed to explain how her presence in Malawi would be disruptive.
“You might wish to research more on former president Bakili Muluzi’s stay in UK with his family for over a year after elections that had nothing to do with his stay in Cape Town where he received medical treatment for his back. I am surprised it did not matter then,” wrote the former president in the brief email on Thursday.
While confirming to have received the letter from the Banda family, heads and representatives of several diplomatic missions declined to comment further on the matter.
Germany Ambassador to Malawi Peter Woeste only said: “This is an internal matter,” while James Dolan, head of political, press and information at the European Union said: “We do not feel that we are in a position to comment.”
A spokesperson for the British High Commission also declined to comment, only saying: “We will not be commenting at this stage.”
Meanwhile, Danwood Chirwa, law lecturer at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is of the view that the decision by JB to claim political prosecution could be her strategy to claim asylum in the West.
“She knows she has overstayed wherever she is and she has to give valid reasons for a further extension of her permit. She does not have a valid reason for remaining outside Malawi and hence she has to concoct the political persecution story,” he said.
He also observed that the Baker Tilly report into Cashgate proved that her government deliberately and systematically undermined public financial security systems to facilitate massive diversion of public funds.
“These funds were channelled through political agents linked to her personally and to her party. After the fraud was uncovered, she attempted to obstruct the course of justice by protecting certain suspects involved in the crime, who have now been rightly charged, and some convicted by the courts,” he said.
The lawyer further observed that the government would be duty-bound to prosecute JB if her involvement in Cashgate is established and that, contrary to what she claims, the former president owes her freedom to the lack of political will by the DPP government to charge her and ask for her extradition.
“As long as the government does not charge Mrs Banda and request her extradition, she will continue to make false allegations and escape from prosecution. If she is charged and an extradition request is made, the State that is giving her refuge will be under an obligation to extradite her,” he observed.