Former president Joyce Banda has said her much-anticipated homecoming will delay further due to “serious security concerns” and lack of an official retirement residence which government has indicated is “ no longer available”, her office announced yesterday.
The former president, according to sources privy to her arrival details, was this Sunday scheduled to fly back from United States of America (USA) where she has been since she lost the May 2014 elections.
But in a statement released on Thursday, Banda’s spokesperson Andekuche Chanthunya said the former head of State has deferred her return after government last week indicated that her retirement home “was no longer available.”
The development, according to Chanthunya, has intensified security concerns for Banda, after government trimmed her security detail in June this year, hence the decision to postpone her trip.
“The delay [in returning home] has been caused by serious security concerns following Malawi Government’s delay in providing a secure and decent house in a secure locality for the former head of State and her family.
“Many Malawians, in general, and her excellency’s family in particular are even more concerned that recently, the Malawi Government withdrew security apparatus from her private residence in June 2015,”said Chanthunya in the statement.
However, government spokesperson Jappie Mhango yesterday trashed Banda’s assertions saying the house was not available because the landlord had withdrawn it.
“When government started processing the necessary payments, the landlord changed mind and offered the same house to an international organisation and there is a communication on all these issues between office of the former president and Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC),”he said.
Mhango said government in conjunction with officials from the office of the former president was jointly looking for another house.
“But that cannot be the reason she is not coming home. Does she mean she had no home of her own before becoming president?” questioned Mhango, who is also Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education.
According to Chanthunya, Banda’s retirement home was identified in Lilongwe’s Area 43 suburb in August this year after the Ministry of Lands and Housing invited officials from the office of the former president to find a suitable house for her.
Initially, government assigned Banda another house at the same low density suburb of Area 43 and the State was charged $1 800 (about K465 000 then) a month, but she declined it saying it needed massive rehabilitation.
Chanthunya claimed in Thursday’s statement that government’s decision to weaken Banda’s security detail is reminiscent of October 2010 events where, as vice-president, her security detail was drastically weakened before her official vehicle, a Mercedes Benz registration MG 2, was mysteriously involved in a road accident on November 19, 2010 at Kanengo in Lilongwe.
In the statement, Banda is also demanding her salary from government, which she claims has not been paid for 17 months.
University of Malawi’s (Unima) Chancellor College political scientist Blessings Chinsinga on Thursdays described Banda’s reasons for delaying her trip back home as “pure politics”.
Chinsinga said as much as the former president is free to decide on where to live, it did not make sense for her to stay away due to lack of a retirement home.
“That does not make sense at all. But as an individual and a citizen she has the freedom to decide where to be. Nobody can force her to come home unless on legal basis, otherwise she is a free citizen she can decided when to be in Malawi and not when to be in Malawi,” he said.
Government is mandated to provide retirement homes for the country’s former presidents.
According to the Presidents Salaries and Benefits Act, a former president is entitled to a tax-free monthly pension, a house or a housing allowance where a house is not provided, two motor vehicles, medical services and six security guards, among other staff and benefits.
The former president has been out of Malawi since July 2014.