Although the Malawi government squeezed about K3.2 billion (US$7 862 408) out of its meagre resources to fund a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi was under no obligation to buy military equipment for the mission as member States do it voluntarily, Weekend Nation has learnt.
Responding to a questionnaire sent through the UN resident coordinator in Malawi Mia Seppo, following Malawi Government’s argument that the presidential jet was bartered with military equipment, United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO) said UN member States are in no way obligated to contribute personnel or equipment towards UN peacekeeping missions.
Minister of Finance Maxwell Mkwezalamba disclosed last week that the $15 million (about K6.3 billion) which government should have realised from the sale of the jet never went into government’s Consolidated Account. Instead, he said, the Attorney General facilitated the transfer of the sale proceeds from Bohnox Enterprises—which reportedly bought the jet—to Paramount Group—its mother company—to which government owed $19 million (about K8.2 billion) in respect of military equipment it procured for peacekeeping missions.
But DPKO told Weekend Nation this week that troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions contribute personnel and equipment on a voluntary basis as the UN has no military force of its own to carry out the missions
“Countries are in no way obligated to contribute personnel or equipment towards UN peacekeeping. Peacekeeping soldiers are paid by their own governments according to their own national rank and salary scale.
“All troop contributing countries (TCC) are responsible for procuring and carrying their own equipment, when their personnel are deployed to UN Peacekeeping Missions. The TCC does not inform the UN about how and where it procures such equipment,” the UN said.
It added that every member State is legally obligated to pay their respective share towards peacekeeping in accordance with provisions of Article 17 of the Charter of the United Nations, which states that the expenses of the organisation shall be borne by the members as apportioned by the General Assembly.
The UN, just like Minister of Defence Ken Kandodo a few weeks ago, has remained tight-lipped on the kind of military equipment member States are expected to buy for the missions.
Kandodo, who refused to disclose the type of military equipment, saying it was classified security information, said in an interview yesterday that Malawi was obliged to move its troops from Cote d’ Voire where it was carrying out peacekeeping operations in 2009 to the DRC on the request of the UN, but they were informed that the mandate was different and military equipment would be needed.
“In DRC, it was necessary to ensure peace and there was potential for troops to engage in battle. So, because of the changed mandate, we had to use different equipment,” said Kandodo.
The DPKO said the UN uses existing policies and guidelines from Contingent-Owned Equipment Manual, among others, to determine the type of equipment and capabilities of military and police units, when a country offers to contribute to a peacekeeping mission.
While concurring with assurances Kandodo made that the money used to procure equipment would be reimbursed, the UN indicated that the formula used was too complex and that only the monthly salary of $1 028 per month for uniformed soldiers could be disclosed.
Without confirming whether Malawi would recover taxpayers money spent on peacekeeping, DPKO said the formula took into account the relative economic wealth of member States contributing troops.
But compared to other countries, Malawi’s assessed contribution to UN peacekeeping for 2013 was 0.0002 percent, according to DPKO.
According to a UN peacekeeping website, the budget for the DRC mission to June 2014 was pegged at $1.4 billion (K569.8 billion) with Malawi contributing over 500 uniformed personnel out of 21 217 as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution.
For the DRC mission alone, government spent $7.3 million (about K3.2 billion), about half of the proceeds from the jet sale.
From the proceeds, government had also planned to spend K2.6 billion maize for relief and K1.5 billion towards purchase of drugs.
But after bartering the presidential jet for debts to Paramount Group, government claims the funds were moved around to ensure these plans were not jeopardised.
However, government has not presented proof of these transactions which were carried out without the approval of Parliament and contrary to Section 172 of the Constitution which does not allow expenditure of government revenue before it is deposited in the Consolidated Account.
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya insisted in an interview this week that the proceeds from the sale of the presidential jet were prudently utilised and that the continuing pressure from civil society organisations for government to explain the utilisation of the proceeds is a result of misunderstanding on how the money was used.
Pressure from opposition, civil society
While the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is still pushing that Banda’s government should come out clearly on how money from the jet sold to Bhonnox Limited at US$15 million was utilised, some NGOs have described the deal as an embarrassment to the administration.
MCP spokesperson Jessie Kabwila said if government bought military equipment for peace keeping in DRC for quick deployment because the UN Organ on Peace and Security could not due to bureaucracy, then there should be paperwork to support that transaction.
Said Kabwila: “By now, government should have submitted an invoice to claim the money from UN. The UN should then be in a position to acknowledge same with details to the Malawian public.
“Ideally, a contract should exist to confirm the UN agreed [with the] deal on one hand and with the supplier of equipment on the other.”
Kabwila said the explanation by Minister of Finance that the presidential jet was traded off with military equipment could not hold water because the Public Finance Management Act does not allow barter trade.
“It is imperative that any transaction is complete before another one takes place. The money should have first been deposited in Account Number One before being used for procurement or settling a debt,” she argued.
Pan African Civic Educators Network (Pacenet) executive director Steven Duwa said the contradiction between the President and her Finance Minister over the jet saga has embarrassed government.
Duwa said the leadership has a duty to explain to the taxpayers the connection between the proceeds from the jet sale and money used to buy military equipment for the peacekeeping mission.
“Alternatively an independent enquiry outside government and the Malawi Defence Force be set up to investigate what really happened so that the people of Malawi can get the truth and probably restore their confidence in the leadership,” he said.
Malawi Watch executive director Billy Banda said the President has to be held responsible for the unfolding drama over the jet and that it is sad that an ordinary citizen would pay a huge price resulting from dishonesty and low levels of competencies in managing the affairs of the State.
Said Banda: “The inconsistent and contradictory statements clearly demonstrate low levels of honesty, commitment and seriousness to handle State affairs [on] which someone somewhere, especially the Head of State, has to come out clearly.”
Banda said it was surprising that the UN could allow a country to participate in the peacekeeping mission using equipment obtained through a loan. He also questioned the rationale in settling a debt using money from the sale of a national asset instead of utilising the refund from the UN.
“Where is the refunded money from the UN? When shall we be told the truth? Is it a genuine statement to be trusted and counted as factual? We are very much confused. It seems someone, somewhere is not being honest with citizens,” he said.
Citizens letter to government on jet sale
In a letter to the Attorney General and Minister of Information, Billy Banda and Lurther Mambala, writing as citizens of the country, are demanding that within seven days, government should supply them with details regarding the jet transaction and documents related to how the proceeds were utilised.
The letter, dated March 13, says the request was in good faith because the information would benefit the people and clear the misinformation which has characterised the deal and would serve government, opposition, civil society organisations and other interested stakeholders including ordinary Malawians.
Reads the letter: “Herewith the clear details we are asking for include, among others; the tendering and bidding processes, the company that successfully won the tender and bought it; the actual amount at which it was sold; the general receipt and account in which the money was deposited with its cheque number and date received and deposited.
“In addition to that, we further request your good office to shed more light on the date Cabinet met and the agenda which warranted the sale of the jet or minutes that substantiated the sale.”
Banda and Mambala are also asking government to explain in detail the procurement processes of maize, drugs and the military equipment, including when the tender process was done and the names of the suppliers.
“On this one [military equipment] more clear and precise details is sought because there is misleading information that the Debt and Aid Department has no such outstanding loan on its records,” reads the letter.
“In the interest of fairness, consistent inflow of accounting information and the more wrangles the issue has protracted, it would be very ideal to share this crucial and vital information to benefit Malawians,” reads the letter.