Malawi’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) director of operations Ben Malunga Phiri who has expressed interest to run on position of director of elections at the party convention due July 1 has denied public perception that he has become an overnight billionaire through dubious means, saying he had to work hard to reach where he is and denies any wrongful enrichment.
Speaking in a Times TV interview, Phiri , who has been President Peter Mutharika’s long-time Special Adviser and Assistant, said he worked extra hard to reach where he is.
The former presidential top aide said he had stepped down from his position to pave the way for people who have been accusing him of corruption to prove their case.
Phiri said Malawians have a culture of being “ agents of speculation” and he resigned from State House soon after reports started circulating that he was involved in wrongful enrichment and bootleg deals.
He said he asked the State and non-governmental agencies to investigate him thoroughly, that is why he did not to cling to the State House job because people would have thought that the President was protecting him.
“I left State House on my own will. I am not an accident that is ready to happen. I am an individual that knows what I want, where I want to go, when and how,” said Phiri in an interview he had with host Brian Banda.
Phiri who has a printing empire, Beata and the upmarket accommodation facility, said up to now, no State agency has come back to him to say he had been charged with corruption or theft or abuse of office charges.
“I was born in a very poor family, where I am now is a result of hard work and God’s blessing,” said Phiri who told the TV he is a trained pastor from Calvary Family Church.
“The time that I was joining State House, I had graduated from the levels of poverty that I was in to a level where I was able to put bread on my table. I had a number of properties,” said Phiri.
He continued: “Now, typical of Malawians when you have money its either you have stolen the money, its either your Satanic or you are in a way a witch.”
Phiri said he was pained to be associated with bad perception on his assets and he decided to pave way for investigations.
He insisted on his challenge to people who say he accumulated his wealth dubiously to prove their claims with “evidence” or “a hint”.
The DPP strongman denied being an overnight billionaire, saying he joined State House when he was well off already.
Phiri said he fight bought his house in United Kingdom – first house to have his title deed- where he stayed before coming to Malawi in 2007 and had properties in Malawi and came with trucks.
“I had flats in Nancholi, I have houses in Kanjedza the semi-detached houses, those who know me know,” he said.
Phiri said because people had known him from his humble background and when he improved his life from a “person who had no underwear to have cars and houses, they think I had become an instant rich man.”
But Phiri said he has worked hard from a Indian shop worker, to business and migrating to UK, before joining front line politics.
Asked if he was still very close to President Mutharika, Phiri said he no longer works for him at State House but he is in touch for political strategies ahead of 2019 elections.
“I plan my game…I have never allowed anyone to introduce me to me. I know who are Iam. I know what the Bible talks about me,” he said.
Phiri also denied accusations that he influenced the appointments of his cronies to strategic government positions.
During interview with Zodiak radio, former First Lady Callista Mutharika responding to a journalist question that Ben Phiri is among the potential names mentioned as front-line troops in the DPP that may be in line for presidential succession, she said that would be a “gratuitous insult” to Malawians.
“Umenewo ungakhale nyozo (That would be an insult). I have never heard about that, but, if true, that would be a gratuitous insult. Malawians are not stupid. What is your personal take on that? Do you think the people you are mentioning can rule a country? I mean, can they govern? Can the they steer the ship in the right direction? Can the poor be uplifted from the doldrums of poverty? Some people think it is easy to take advantage of the low literacy rate in our rural areas, so they just wake up and say ‘I can be president.’ It’s not that easy,” said the former first lady.
“Let me make a plea to the people in our rural areas: when you hear so-and-so plans to contest as president, ask carefully: what kind of education has he or she had? What are his or her plans? Aren’t these the very same thieves plundering government entities? They need to ask themselves those questions,” she said bluntly.
The journalist pressed Callista further to explain what was wrong with Ben Phiri not to be eligible to run for leadership position.
In her response, Callista said she had no intention to speak further on specific individuals, but said “just do your research and look carefully into their personal stories. I will not say anything more than that. Find out what people out there say.”
During the interview, Callista pointed out that Malawians are engulfed by too much fear.
“ Why is that so? God protects us. Let us learn to speak the truth, to stand for what is right. In addition, let us not deceive the masses in rural areas, to whom we go masquerading as philanthropists, yet these so-called philanthropists are thieves, stealing from your government, stealing from public entities . . . my plea to those stealing is please, stop that. People are suffering in rural areas. You are stealing money that could have assisted the poor.”
After two years of political sabbatical leave, Ben Phiri is aspiring to be Member if Parliament for Thyolo Central Constituency and to take charge of DPP’s 2019 elections campaign.
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