One of Malawi’s biggest bilateral donors, Britain, has questioned the manner in which the Malawi Government sold the controversial presidential jet which was bought by the former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
Speaking in an exclusive interview in Lilongwe yesterday, British High Commissioner Michael Nevin said government must come out clearly on the issue, particularly at a time the Joyce Banda administration’s image has been tainted by the cashgate.
In 2010, Britain cut aid to Malawi by £3 million (about K2.2 billion) after the purchase of the jet that cost more than £8 million (about K5.8 billion), saying it had concerns about the purchase given the impoverished state of the nation and the fact that the country relies on donor support for up to 40 percent of its development budget.
Mutharika defended the jet purchase, saying it was cheaper to run it than hire an aircraft each time he wanted to travel abroad.
Said Nevin: “Selling the jet was taken as a good symbol of the government prioritising austerity measures and tackling poverty. We were under the impression that the jet had been sold to the best bidder in an open competition, but media reports suggest that it was not a straightforward deal as such.
“It is particularly concerning if there is a nexus between selling the jet, buying of boats and the Paramount Group.”
Nation on Sunday investigations established that Paramount/Fortune Air Fleet, which is now operating the jet, is linked to Paramount Group, a company which President Banda has engaged to supply seven interceptor boats to be fitted with arms for patrols on Lake Malawi.
Nevin said it is difficult for one to make judgments on the matter at the moment because government has not come out clearly on arrangements it made on the sale of the jet.
“We are asking government for greater clarity around this deal and any links to the purchase of the boats. Given the cashgate, it’s important that there are even greater efforts to promote transparency around contracts. We would like the government to remove clouds around the sale of the jet,” said Nevin.
He said the risk of deals of this nature is that companies gain inappropriate influence and advantage, adding that although this may not be the case on this issue, Britain needs an explanation for clarity.
“We welcomed their communication that the jet was sold and it was a very good signal but because confidence has been damaged with the cashgate, it is really important if there is transparency in all the programmes that government is undertaking,” said Nevin.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national coordinator Chris Chisoni agreed with Nevin, saying government must come out clearly on the sale of the jet as the deal is clouded in secrecy.
“Government must come out transparently and clearly in the way it handled the jet sale. We need to know who the bidders were, who won the bid and bought the plane, how much was realised and what happened with the money,” said Chisoni.
Special presidential adviser on communication and political affairs Elias Wakuda Kamanga refused to comment on the matter and referred it to Information Minister Brown Mpinganjira.
He could not pick his phone, but his office recently published a statement that the plane was sold to Bonhox Enterprises Limited of British Virgin Islands.