Details of how the Presidential Jet was sold in 2013 and how proceeds from the sale were used are well documented for anyone who cares to know.
Nation Publications Limited (NPL) has a meticulous cache of the documents in published stories based on interviews it carried out with officials from the Ministry of Finance (December 27 2014; July 1 2018), Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), Minister of Information (December 27 2015), press conferences (March 5 2014), Ministry of Finance press statement (March 5 2014) as well as from NPL’s own investigations (March 10, 16, 2014; June 25 2014; July 1 2018), et al.
And the current Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament is not the first to call for a probe in the transaction. Other people and groups have made similar calls in the past. They include civil society organisations, former Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe, former president Peter Mutharika, and the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament of 2014. Ministry of Finance conducted the probes but none yielded the desired incriminating results.
The Ministry of Finance Press Statement of March 5 2014 had it all about the transaction. Cabinet authorised the sale of the Presidential Jet. Nothing was hidden. Proceeds from the sale of the jet were allocated as follows: Malawi Defence Force peacekeeping operations K2 815 504 ($7 038 760); Procurement of maize: K1 525 000 000 ($4 093 907.5); Procurement of medical drugs: K1 546 933 904 ($3 867 332.5). All payments to Paramount Group were done with the express facilitation of the Attorney General.
For those interested in the finer details of the investigations, here we go.
Gondwe first announced government’s plans to probe the jet’s sale on June 26, 2014. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national coordinator Chris Chisoni (MHSREP), supporting the call told The Nation probing the transaction on the jet “won’t be a tough job after Nation Publications Limited has done a number of investigative stories full of details”. Six months down the line on December 27 2014, Treasury, through its spokesperson Nations Msowoya gave an update on the probe.
“It is going on well”.
Malawians then waited with baited breath to be told about the findings of the probe. Six months. 12 months. Nothing from the Ministry of Finance. Then after a long 18 months, on December 27, 2015, President Peter Mutharika called for yet another probe into the sale of the jet.
Ordinarily, one would wonder what had become of the probe Gondwe had sanctioned and which Msowoya was later quoted as saying was making good progress.
But it is not rocket science. It was all just politicking. The probe Msowoya said was going on well yielded no incriminating evidence with which to pin anybody. But no one in government was expected to make this announcement public as it would have vindicated the JB administration that the sale of the jet was a Cabinet decision and that everything about it was done above board.
Minister of Information Jappie Mhango defended the Mutharika’s call for a fresh probe saying there was need for a “comprehensive investigation”. Mhango’s statement supports my earlier statement that an investigation took place. Only that they now wanted something at a bigger scale and scope.
On July 1 2018, when Gondwe was asked to comment on findings of the “comprehensive investigation” Mutharika had asked for (after total silence for three full years), he (Gondwe) pushed the buck to the Secretary for Treasury saying he was better placed to comment.
Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya who was earlier quoted saying “we have been making progress on the probe” changed tune. Now he said “there are no indications at Treasury that a probe took place. You need to check with OPC”. Chief Secretary George Mkondiwa declined to comment and pushed the matter to back to Jappie Mhango.
On October, 2018, Nation on Sunday reported that Malawi Government is making secret payments to Paramount Group, the parent company of the firm that bought the jet. The development attracted the wrath of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as this was a breach of conditions for the Extended Credit Facility. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde wrote Gondwe and Reserve Bank of Malawi governor on the matter.
Has anyone wondered why the Mutharika administration put a veil of secrecy on the payments it was making to Paramount Group? How much was paid to the group and for what? Shouldn’t the current PAC be agitating for a probe into these ‘clandestine’ payments instead of the proceeds of the jet about which government has twice failed to establish any wrong-doing?