Chikaonda attacks MACRA again over ‘spy machine’

Group chief executive officer for Press Corporation Limited (PCL), professor Mathews Chikaonda has again hit at the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) over controversial ‘spy machine’.

Just days after labelling the regulator a political condom, the economic expert has lashed out at the institution saying it has no legal authority to implement the infamous ‘spy machine.’

Chikaonda said the  ‘spy machine’, which was bought from a US based company Agilis international at a whopping US$6.8 million, can monitor and analyze telecommunications services including SMS and Internet usage in real time.

Chikaonda: MACRA's spy machine is illegal

Jurisdiction

He said the machine should best be handled by the law enforcers for security purposes and not “a small offices at the Ginnery Corner where a messenger.”

Chikaonda, speaking on Daybreak Malawi programme on Capital FM,  said the infamous machine was published in the Government Gazette on April 2009 on page 201 where the regulators said  clearly  under the  title of ‘scope of services’ that they would use the machine to intercept internet, jam broadcasting and even monitor calls including those of the President.

“Where in a democracy does that fit?” he wondered.

“Who is the rightful agency to do lawful intercept? Macra is not the authority to be enforcing all these other laws,” the former Reserve Bank of Malawi Governor said.

Chikaonda by virtue of his position as group chief executive officer for PCL, also chairs the board of TNM and Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL).

Meanwhile, Chikaonda said  the machine is good “for revenue assurances” saying on that they fully support it.

“But where we are not agreeing is the issue of intercepting people’s calls, to us that is non-starter and undemocratic.

“In countries like South Africa and USA the machine is handled by security apparatus not an institution with small and unsecure offices at Ginnery Corner where a messenger in a night time  can just go and monitor the  president’s call,” added Chikaonda who once served as Finance and Planning Minister during the Bakili Muluzi era.

He said: “Malawi needs to have an open national dialogue about this spy machine.”

MACRA reaction

Chikaonda said MACRA were implementing the ‘spy machine’ project secretly until it was uncovered. Nyasa Times were the first to report about the machine.

“MACRA was doing this quietly and they actually went ahead to implementation stage. Its only when telecom companies alerted the general public the dangers of this system when MACRA started last year badmouthing and start decampaiging the telecom companies,” he said.

The machine under Call Detail Records (CDRs)  provide detailed information including who called which number; details of calls received; time and duration of calls; location where call was made or received; SMS sent and received; type of handset used and other detailed subscriber information.

Macra has not yet responded to the embarrassing salvo it is suffering at the hands of financially powerful Chikaonda.

Macra communications manager Zadziko Mankhambo refused to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports indicate that Macra has agreed to cut all financial dealings with the National Bank of Malawi (NBM) which is also chaired by Chikaonda.

Chikaonda during the official opening of the NBM twin towers in Blantyre when he used the podium to dress down Macra in presence of the state president Mrs. Joyce Banda.

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