The Defence and Security Committee of Parliament has questioned the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) and the Ministry of Defence why the House body was not informed about the Paramount Group debts in various meetings the three stakeholders have held, including the crucial one of October 2013.
Chairperson of the committee Steven Kamwendo told Nation on Sunday on Thursday that government was under obligation to inform the committee that it owed Paramount Group $19 million (roughly K8.2 billion).
Paramount Group—Africa’s largest privately owned defence and aerospace company—is the same firm that bought Malawi’s presidential jet in July last year through its subsidiary, Bohnox Enterprises, a British Virgin Islands-based firm.
But two weeks ago, Capital Hill claimed that it only learned that Paramount owns Bohnox after the deal had been sealed and the arms dealer started pushing for a deal in which instead of paying for the plane, it told Malawi to deduct the money from the $19 million that MDF owed it.
The Government said the Paramount debt was incurred after buying military equipment from the South African arms firm for a UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The UN, however, told Weekend Nation yesterday that Lilongwe was under no obligation to buy the military gear for the peace-keeping mission.
The decisions surrounding MDF—made without Parliament’s knowledge—have irked the Committee on Defence and Security.
“Let me indicate that Cabinet did not consult the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security when the decision to sell the presidential jet was made with the intentions to offset the said military equipment debt of $19 million to Paramount Group.
“As a committee, we have had several meeting with the defense force Commander, General [Henry] Odillo as well as Ministry of Defence. [At no time] did both parties indicate to the committee that there was a debt to the tune of $19 million magnitude that government was struggling to settle with Paramount Group in connection with procurement of military equipment,” said Kamwendo.
He said one of the major roles that his committee plays is to put pressure on government to increase budget allocation to MDF.
He said the committee will demand answers from government to explain why it was kept in the dark on a crucial arms deal.
“If the $19 million debt was meant for replenishing military equipment, why is it that the committee was not furnished with the information in all the meetings we had? As a committee, we are very much surprised and need answers also,” said Kamwendo.
Minister of Defence Ken Kandodo was not available to respond to the committee’s position.
The parliamentary committee’s tough talk tightens the noose around government’s neck over the use of money from the sale of the presidential jet.
Recently, head of the public service Hawa Ndilowe and Minister of Finance Maxwell Mkwezalamba said Cabinet authorised government to settle part of the debt using proceeds from the sale of the jet.
Government said it used $15 million (about K6.3 billion) realised from the sale of the jet to offset the debt.
Ndilowe and Mkwezalamba said government then moved $4 million (K1.7 billion) from the MDF budget to buy drugs since it was part of how the jet money was planned to be used.
But by bartering the jet with military equipment, government flouted Section 172 of the Constitution which makes it illegal to spend government’s money that has not been deposited into the Consolidated Account.