The revelations that President Peter Mutharika dished out K50,000 to media representative during their recent visit to Sanjika Palace has turned scandalous following revelations that the Head of State actually authorized K150,000 to be given to each journalist on the night.
State House sources have since disclosed that as much as the President is not amused with the undiplomatic revelation by some of the journalists that he palm oiled them, he has been more incensed with the revelations that some of his staff played games with the
money and reduced the amount.
The source revealed that State House officially budgeted, approved and released K12 million for the handouts to the 80 scribes but the revelation that they instead had K50,000 each instead leaves questions as to what happened to the balance of K8 million.
“The President has since asked the press department to explain what happened. As much as the revelation of the money was not good publicity to him, the President is concerned that some people also took advantage of the handouts to fill their own pockets,” said the source.
Initially, the K50, 000 handouts were tuckled under the sleeves even to the journalists who got the money until Times TV Head of News and Current Affairs Gracian Tukula wrote about it in his weekly column thereby attracting an outcry from both the media fraternity and members of the public.
Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa announced during the presidential meeting that before leaving the palace journalists should collect a folder supposedly containing Mutharika’s vision for a free press in Malawi.
But the folders contained an embossed folder with the President’s insignia, a blank notepad, Mutharika’s personalised pen and an envelope containing the cash.
Most commentators have argued on the impact of the money on whether journalists will remain objective when handling issues to do with government, State House and the President.
Some have even described the money as bribery to journalists with the President wanting to corrupt the minds of journalists in the country.
In response to the outbursts Times Group editors on Tuesday this week used the money to buy assorted items which they donated to Christian Organisation of Orphans in Malawi.
The Times Group team comprised of Times Group Managing Editor Brian Ligomeka, Malawi News Editor Innocent Chitosi, Sunday Times Editor McDonald Bamusi and Tukula. The items included sugar, salt, soap, notebooks and other writing materials to the orphanage that has close to 300 orphans.
However, it has also been revealed that journalists from outside Blantyre got the K50, 000s on top of their normal allowances for accommodation, transport and food as promised by State House when the journalists were being invited.
Nation Publications Limited Editor George Kasakula who was among those who received the money is reported to have returned the money to presidential secretary Fredrick Ndala right at the State House as soon as he got the package.
The journalists said nobody explained what the money was for.
Meanwhile, civil society organisations in the country have condemned President Mutharika’s “desperate attempt to avoid being taken to task on his various leadership challenges by trying to bribe the media as exemplified by his recent inter-face with the media at Sanjika State House.”
CSOs in a news conference held in Lilongwe on Wednesday commended media practitioners who have either returned or donated the money to the needy “who are equally, if not more hit by the current economic crisis. And, who knows, perhaps the money distributed to the journalists was siphoned from the same NAC (National Aids Commission”.
The organisations included Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Malawi Health Equity Network, Malawi Network of People Living with HIV and Aids, Manelera, Centre for the Development of People, among many organizations that made the demand at a media briefing in Lilongwe.
CSOs leaders said President Mutharika’s “attempt to bribe journalists” at Sanjika in Blantyre provide a litmus test to his leadership credentials.
“This could simply be a tip of the iceberg of things that are happening behind the scene of DPP administration. This must be stopped forthwith,” the CSOs said.
They called on Mutharika to “stop burying his head in the sand and address the citizens on the measures he has to take the country out this economic mess rather than simply issuing incomprehensible announcements and dinning with members of the press.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :