Malawi’s Joyce Banda will for sure leave a stink!

Malawi’s flagship publications, the Daily Times and the Nation are brooking no nonsense on the Jet Saga. In one of these, they have quoted the Consumer Rights watchdog saying:

“It is our view that the Jet has not been sold and we are demanding its withdrawal from where it is so that it is properly sold by the Malawi Government,” Cama

My view?

I agree 100% with the Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA). President Joyce Banda should do the honourable thing: ask her “well-wishers” to return our national asset.

President Joyce Banda did NOT sell the jet. She never sold the jet. And I can dare add she never intended to sell for Malawians benefit anyway unless she proves me wrong by returning the Jet to its rightful owners, Malawians.

Quiz time:

If she was acting in good faith why the secrecy?

Why these inconsistencies?

Bwanji lero mayiwa ayamba chibwibwi? I have never known her to stammer!

Matenda achibwibwi amagwira munthu wokulakula? Mwina!

Presidential jet: Government’s airliner of lies by CHARLES MPAKA (Daily Times)

When the current administration came on stage, one piece on its raft of pledges was to dispose off the presidential jet. No one might have imagined that this was going to be a bitter lesson in how government can choose to be dishonest to its people on their own asset. On the back of government’s cagey response last week, CHARLES MPAKA dug through the media files tracking down how far Malawians have been taken down a turbulent flight of lies, laughable  inconsistencies and false equations. 

Intensely desperate to depart from the ways of the previous administration, supported in that course by a donor who seemingly had a caustic dislike of that earlier regime and cheered on by some local voices of discontent, the Joyce Banda government arrived in April 2012 riding on the back of considerable hand clapping.

It solidified this with a catalogue of promises.  High on that list was to abandon the presidential jet purchased by the Bingu wa Mutharika administration and subject of heavy international and local criticism.

With the acquisition of this 14-seater jet in 2009, Mutharika stoked the British’s dislike of him such that Britain cut its aid to Malawi by 3 million pounds in reaction.

Thus, any new government that would offload the airliner stood a good chance of being Britain’s buddy. So, when Banda came on, she pledged in May 2012 to sell the jet.

It is a matter open for debate whether this was a well-grounded economic decision or merely a frantic attempt by some baby government craving to stand in politically-correct stead in the eyes of an infuriated major bilateral donor.

But at least the government achieved the latter as the British government immediately went about singing Banda’s praises and promising things.

That May, Britain announced a 33 million pounds cash injection into the government’s coffers. The message of that assistance was delivered by the then Britain’s International Development Secretary himself, Andrew Mitchel, and not by a diplomatic cable from his London office but in person during his four-day visit to Malawi.

June 1, 2012

In its June 1, 2012 edition, UK’s The Guardian newspaper reported on Mitchel’s visit to Malawi. In the story titled “Malawi’s Joyce Banda discards presidential jet and luxury car fleet”, the opening was this glowing: “Banda has made numerous breaks from her autocratic predecessor but few will be this popular: she has dumped his presidential jet and fleet of luxury cars.”

The paper added the decision to sell off the jet and fleet of 60 Mercedes government cars could not only strengthen domestic goodwill but also “confirm her as a darling of the west”.

It quoted Mitchell as having discussed the jet issue with Banda during his visit.

“President Banda’s decision to sell or lease the presidential jet and expensive fleet of cars sends an enormously encouraging signal to British taxpayers and the international community about the seriousness President Banda is applying to overturn bad decisions taken under the previous government,” Mitchell told the paper.

In another article in another UK newspaper The Telegraph, Mitchel was quoted to have said, “The importance of an African leader giving up the jets and Mercedes [cars] is iconic.”

The 60 Mercedes vehicles were never sold eventually.

But the aircraft was, or so the nation is told.

January 28, 2013

Government advertised the sale by a formal tender, Reference Number: OPC/IPC/15/38/14/13 of the Falcon 900 EX, Serial Number 38.

The advertisement in The Daily Times said the plane which was manufactured by Dassault Falcon Jet Corporation in 1998, was in perfect flying condition and could fly 4,500 nautical miles (8,380km) non-stop.

Government gave February 20, 2013 as the deadline for the bids.

According to the advert, the following were some of the conditions of the bid:

  1. The successful bidder would have to make a deposit of at least half the offered amount within 15 days from the date of the official communication about the bid success.
  2. The balance would have to be settled within 30 days from the first deposit but before collection of the aircraft.

British Virgin Islands-based Bohnox Enterprises Limited was one of the three bidders and ended up winning the bid.

Government officially informed Bohnox in May 2013 that it had been successful in its bid.  The company proceeded with the acquisition of the aircraft at a price $5 million less than the market value of $20 million.

The whole transaction was finalised on July 29, 2013.

 September 5, 2013

 The Ministry of Finance told The Daily Times that the money from the sale had been transferred into Malawi government account at the time of the finalisation of the contract.  

 The ministry’s spokesperson Nations Msowoya said government had decided to channel the money towards the buying of maize to shore up the stocks in the reserves and in legume production.

He said officials in the ministry were then working on budgetary requirements before releasing the money towards the settled-for expenditure.

He did not say how much money would be spent on maize purchase.

November 5, 2013

At a press briefing in Lilongwe, two cabinet ministers Brown Mpinganjira [Minister of Information] and Dr James Munthali [Minister of Agriculture and Food Security] alongside several other senior agriculture officials told the nation that government had used $2.5 million of the money raised from the sale to purchase maize for sale to the public at subsidised price.

There was no mention of what use the difference had been put to and no information about legume production as government indicated earlier.

 January 12, 2014

 The Nation on Sunday reported that between August 2 and December 3, 2013, President Banda had made over 20 foreign trips. It was in that period that speculation started swirling that the president had used the same sold aircraft several times.

In its article, The Nation found that Banda had indeed used the same jet three times in those 20 trips. Seventeen of those trips were taken on Fortune Air planes. The paper also  established that Fortune Air, like Bohnox, were associated to Paramount Group which is said to be Africa’s largest private defence and aerospace company.

Amid the earlier rumours of the president using the sold plane on her trips, Ministry of Information issued a statement dismissing the speculation.

January 26, 2014

But pressure was mounting and government yielded. Mpinganjira admitted to The Sunday Times that indeed the president has used the sold jet.

“It was only hired about three times out of the about 20 times President Joyce Banda hired a jet in her line of duty. Those who hire the jet for the president just hire it without asking for the one which used to belong to Malawi Government. The jet was sold and it won’t come back,” he said insisting that the bills for the hiring were paid for by well wishers.

February 16, 2014

Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) and Treasury officials confided in The Nation on Sunday that they had not actually seen any transaction related to the said jet money.

But Office of President and Cabinet, through spokesperson Arthur Chipenda, said: “The $15 million realised from the sale of the presidential jet did not necessarily need to be deposited into government Account Number One which is kwacha dominated account. This would have meant converting it into kwacha and yet government want to use the proceeds for activities that required use of forex such as purchase of medical drugs.

“…The proceeds therefore went into a government foreign account so that it would be easier to use the forex and not externalise any forex. This is just an accounting matter.”

But the RBM and Treasury officials insisted that government does not have a foreign exchange denominated account anywhere in the world.

March 4, 2014

President Banda called for a press briefing to provide answers on “issues of national importance”. On the jet matter, she gave an evasive response.

During the briefing aired live on state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), she said the sale had been undertaken after consultation with the cabinet.

The cabinet, she said, had agreed that the money realised from the deal should be spent on purchase maize for distribution to hunger stricken Malawians, procurement of drugs to and on military equipment for Malawi Defence Force’s peace keeping mission in the DRC.

For a conclusive explanation on the matter, she tasked members of her government to compile a detailed statement and present it to the public the following day.

March 5, 2014

At a press briefing, Minister of Finance Maxwell Mkwezalamba reiterated Banda’s response that cabinet had agreed as to how the jet money would be spent.

He also disclosed that government owed Paramount Group $19.2 million through military support and the $15 million had been routed into settling part of that debt, hence not hitting any Malawi government account.

He said government then turned to the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) allocation in the 2013/14 national budget for money to meet the objectives the jet proceeds had been planned to be used for. He gave this breakdown:

  • $3.8 million for drugs
  • $7.0 million for MDF equipment for peace keeping operation
  • $4.0 million for maize

Chief Secretary to the government, Hawa Ndilowe, admitted at that briefing that the OPC had lied in its earlier response that the money had been deposited in government’s offshore account.

She also disclosed that at the time Bohnox was sold the jet, government did not know that it was an associate company to Paramount Group. Ndilowe said it was Bohnox itself that disclosed the relationship which forced the hand of the government to have the jet money from Bohnox paid directly to Paramount Group.

March 7, 2014

But their response did not convince everyone.

JET BACKPolitical parties and commentators told The Daily Times that government’s statement did not look complete and truthful.

Human rights lawyer Justin Dzonzi said: “It will be difficult to fall for it now. It could be another dummy, even the president gave us her own version of events and it’s different. There is something sinister about the transaction; the jet could be another victim of cashgate because the money never entered the government machinery.”

Executive Director for Institute for Policy Interaction Rafiq Hajat said the revelations pointed to a systematic failure in systems of government.

“There is a fundamental issue that is not being addressed: the violation of the due process of lawful government transactions and the due process of the use of resources,” he said.

Spokesperson for opposition United Democratic Front Ken Ndanga said both government and President Banda had displayed lack of sincerity on the matter by their inconsistent statements.

“The inconsistency of the government story itself speaks volumes on how the government, led by the president herself, is struggling to hide the truth on the matter.”

On its part, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Publicity Secretary Nicholas Dausi said government had been consistent on one thing on this issue: lying to the nation.

—————————–

 Lies, inconsistencies and false equations    

1.      Violation of bid conditions. The successful bidder was supposed to make a deposit of at least half the offered amount within 15 days from the date of the official communication about the bid success and then settle the balance within thirty days from the first deposit but before collection of the aircraft. In the end, Malawi got no money.

2.      Ministry of Finance said in September 2013 that the money had been transferred at the time of the finalisation of the contract in July 2013. It said officials in the ministry were working on the budgetary requirements before releasing the money. How does the claim that the money had been transferred and officials were working for its disbursement agree with the discovery that the money never came to Malawi after all?

3.      Brown Mpinganjira and Dr James Munthali said in November 2013 that $2.5 million of the money raised from the sale had been spent on buying maize. Did government spend the money that it had not received?

4.      The $2.5 million the two ministers claimed to have been spent on maize does not agree with the $4 million Dr Mkwezalamba said last week as having been spent on maize purchase after the said reallocation from the MDF vote.

5.      Government denied that President Banda had used the ‘sold’ aircraft. Later, it admitted she had used it three times.

6.      In January 2014, government said the jet money was deposited in an offshore account. Earlier in November 2013, the same government said it had spent the money on purchasing maize locally.

7.      President Banda said last week that part of the proceeds was spent on maize to be distributed to hunger stricken people. Her Minister of Agriculture and of Information said in November 2013 that the money had been spent on buying maize for sale to the public at a subsidised price.

8.      The OPC said in January 2104 that the money had been deposited in off shore account. Ndilowe said at the press briefing last week that government had lied on this.

9.      The MDF had $15 million taken from its 2013/14 budget allocation to finance the expenditures the jet money had been planned for. At current exchange rate, that is about K6.3 billion. This is nearly 50 percent of K13.85 billion allocated to the MDF in the 2013/14 national budget. Has the MDF been functioning on half of its budget?

My Conclusion:

(c) The Nation
(c) The Nation

We do not need forensic experts on this one. Neither do we need a microscope to trace the jet. It happens to be very big. There is only one name involved. This name has been repeatedly quoted by both the international and local media.

To cut a long story short the buck stops at President Joyce Banda’s door.

And I, Wise One from the East, hereby weigh in to join other patriots calling upon President Joyce Banda to return our ndege. Ufiti chani? Kuba kopanda nako manyazi?

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