Hon Folks, when assuming office in 2004 Bingu wa Mutharika won the hearts of many who had denied him the vote by declaring zero tolerance for corruption.
By the time of his untimely death in 2012, having been in office for less than eight years, Bingu was said to be worth K61 billion. He had declared to have owned assets worth K150 million at the beginning of his tenure.
The gap between K150 million and K61 billion is of gargantuan proportions, hence the question: how did he make his wealth?
The previous government of Joyce Banda hired property valuer—YMW Property Investment Limited owned by Yeremia Chihana to assess the value of the late Bingu’s estate so as to determine its tax value—at least that is the good reason there was for the exercise.
Chihana did not just claim the horrendous figure but he also indicated it was a conservative value which could significantly go up if assets abroad were fully accounted for.
Bingu’s family engaged a lawyer to dispute the findings. Interestingly, by the end of the day, the lawyer surprised even some within his own fraternity when he reportedly charged a legal fee of K3.7 billion.
Some people said that could only be the five percent of the value which lawyers exact as payment for their legal work on deceased estates. Suffice it to say the legal fee only served to render credence to the valuer’s claim.
The thought that the same president who pledged zero-tolerance for corruption could possibly have indulged in massive corruption invokes a strong sense of betrayal, especially now when high level corruption has left the over-taxed citizen in poverty and deprivation.
Yet when the issue of Bingu’s wealth came up in Parliament last week, Leader of the House George Chaponda and Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu used the old and tired argument technique of pushing such malfeasance under the carpet by demanding evidence by the member who raised the issue.
On his part, Speaker Richard Msowoya, uncomfortable with the hot potato, quickly dismissed the photocopied documents the member had to support his case, demanding original documents instead.
An important matter swept under carpet by the institution duly established to provide the Executive with checks and balances! The question is: why look elsewhere for the evidence?
Was it not government which told us that our former president had amassed K61 billion within the seven years he was in office? Was it not government which instituted the valuation of the estate? If Chihana produced any reports after the valuation of deceased estate of Bingu, shouldn’t those reports be in the custody of government?
True, it was the JB administration which instituted the probe into Bingu’s assets but they did that as government, not in their private capacity or as People’s Party. The APM administration should also handle the matter as government, not as Bingu’s family or members of the DPP which the late President founded.
By being defensive, the APM administration is just reinforcing the fear that it has so many skeletons in the cupboard, the same impression invoked by ACB shenanigans on the Muluzi corruption saga and the 2009 to 2014 cash-gate saga.
I dare say, government’s retrogressive stand on transparency and accountability as exemplified by its version of Access To Information(ATI) which is more about legitimising government’s will to withhold any information than enabling the right to free press and the right to access to public information, appears to also be informed by the fear to expose skeletons in the cupboard.
If, for any reason, Chihana’s valuation is questionable, why not institute another valuation to be done by a reputable institution without any known vested partisan interests in Malawian politics?
We’ll all feel relieved if the former President comes out clean. Who takes pride in having a fraudster for former president?
But if the outcome validates Chihana’s findings, it would only be fair to let the courts determine how the State can be compensated. n