Inquiry exposes Goodall, Msaka, and Peter Mutharika for Malawi transitional ‘coup’ plot

  • Trio wanted Army to take over power
  •  They plot a constitutional coup
  •  Goodall was the kingpin during transition
  • Msaka played a crucial role in concealing death of Bingu

An official Malawian commission of inquiry into circumstances leading to the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika  has exposed the Chief Secretray to Office of President and Cabinet (OPC), Bright Msaka, Minister of Economic Planning Goodall Gondwe and Mutharika’s brother, Peter, for their key role  played  in the failed plot to block President Joyce Banda from ascending to power.

The report, presented to the President in Lilongwe on Wednesday, reveals that in the immediate period of the President’s illness and death, the leadership of the Government in managing the affairs of State fell to three individuals – Goodall Gondwe, Peter Mutharika, Chief Secretary  Bright Msaka, SC.

“This was in accordance with the practical, but unconstitutional, situation which had evolved within the Executive at the time,” notes the report of the Commission chaired  by retired Judge Elton Mawina Singini and its members were retired Inspector General of Police Joseph Aironi, Dr Tiwonge Loga, Dr Elizabeth Sibale, Father Joseph Mpinganjira, Brian Nyasulu, Esther Chioko, lawyer Jabbar Alide and pathologist Dr Charles Dzamalala.

Goodall Gondwe:Chaired meetings on Mutharika's transition
Goodall Gondwe:Chaired meetings on Mutharika’s transition
Peter Mutharika: Wanted to be President or Army to take over
Peter Mutharika: Wanted to be President or Army to take over
Msaka: Concealed the death of Bingu
Msaka: Concealed the death of Bingu

The Commission said it learnt that with the exclusion of the then Vice President, Joyce Banda, from executive  functions by the system, the ranking of seniority in Government put Peter Mutharika next after the President and then Gondwe, third.

“Thus, Mr. Msaka, as Chief Secretary, was working with this leadership of the Executive Branch of Government,” says the report.

The Commission established that the trio was informed about the death of president Mutharika by the doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe on April 5, 2012 at 2.30PM.

“From the totality of the evidence tendered during the Inquiry, the Commission finds that the three were informed of the death of the President by the team of the four doctors and therefore knew about the death from as early as 2.30 in the afternoon,” reads the report.

According to the Commission’s  finding,  Dr.  Dan Namarika  personally communicated the death  of  the  late  President  to  the  President’s  family  right  at  the KCH.

“This communication was followed by viewing of the body of the late President by three of his family members, individually and in turn, namely, the First Lady, Madam Callista Mutharika,  the  President’s  daughter,  Mrs.  Duwa  Mutharika  –  Mubaira,  and  the President’s brother Hon. Peter Mutharika. The last to view the body in hospital was a Catholic Priest, Father Taylor, who did so with the permission of the First Lady and gave the last anointing prayer,” reads the inquiry report in part.

Conceal Bingu’s death

The Commission established that there were several attempts by those in authority to conceal the fact of death of Mutharika especially from the trio.

Among the attempts, the Commission established that the President’s personal physician, Dr. Namarika, was instructed by Msaka to advise the air ambulance crew from South Africa  that the late President was being stabilized and that the air ambulance should still come to Malawi to evacuate him as a patient. Dr. Namarika passed on this message to the air ambulance crew with full knowledge that the President had died.

The report says after leaving hospital on the afternoon of the 5th April 2012, with knowledge of the Mutharika’s death, Msaka informed the then Attorney General, Justice Maxon Mbendera, SC, that the President was incapacitated.

He asked the Attorney General for a legal opinion on the way forward following the incapacitation which  the Commission pointed out “was an incorrect premise for the legal opinion.”

The Commission established that there was   a stand-off at Kamuzu International Airport, as there were suggestions that the late President be taken back to KCH ICU instead of a mortuary.

“There were also suggestions to take the body back from the airport to State House. This was despite the fact that at that time, the late President’s body had been exposed in the open space for over 10 hours and without its proper treatment as a dead body. “

The Commission established that all these suggestions were being made to hide the fact that the President had died.

At the meeting of Cabinet Ministers held at OPC on the morning of Friday, 6th April 2012, none of the officials of Government or Cabinet Ministers who officially knew about the death of the late President disclosed to the gathering that the President had died, the report said.

Peter Mutharika, Gondwe, former minister of health Dr Jean Kalirani and Msaka attended the meeting “but none of them disclosed the true position.” Gondwe was the chairman of the meeting.

The gathering was advised that the President had fallen sick and had been flown to South Africa for further medical attention. Actually by that time, the President was lying in a mortuary in South Africa, the inquiry established.

The other Cabinet Ministers who knew about the death, albeit not officially, also did not raise any question or challenge about the true status of the President’s condition, says the report.

Commission established that before announcement of death,  Msaka initially sought the permission of the then First Lady, Callista Mutharika  who directed him to clear the matter with Peter Mutharika as brother of the President.

Reads the report: “The  Commission further established that the Chief Secretary then contacted Hon. Goodall Gondwe concerning the announcement of death and Hon. Gondwe agreed that death be announce on 7th April 2012.”

The Commission established that the announcement of death on 7th April was among other things, generally influenced by the international media which was reporting about the death and more especially by pressure from the South African Government which is said to have advised that President Jacob Zuma was going to announce the death if the Malawi Government was failing or delaying to do so.

In the report, the Commission finds that the delay to announce the death of the President immediately it occurred and within the reasonable time after the doctors had informed the authorities on the day he died, on 5th April 2012, was part of the scheme to prevent. Joyce Banda, to succeed the office of President .

Constitutional coup

The trio also plotted a legal  challenge against Joyce Banda from being sworn in as President.

“The Commission established that court documents, including the affidavits in support of the application, to stop the swearing in of the Vice President as President were prepared by Dr. Zolomphi Nkowani, Senior Deputy Chief State Advocate, under the supervision of the Attorney General, Justice Maxon Mbendera, SC,” reads the report.

“ Preparation of the court documents was completed by the evening of 6th April, 2012. The affidavits were signed later before midnight by two Ministers, Hon. Henry Mussa, MP, and Hon. Dr. Jean Kalirani, MP, in readiness of the filing of the application in court,” the report adds.

The Commission said they were informed that there was a request made to the Commander of the Malawi Defence Force, General Henry Odillo, for the Army to take over Government.

“The Commission heard that in the first instance, while still at the hospital, Hon. Peter Mutharika asked the Chief Secretary, Mr. Bright Msaka, SC, if it would not be a good idea that the Army took over Government. This idea was opposed right away by the Chief Secretary who immediately sought assurance from General Odillo on whether the Army knew its role in times of the event at hand,” reads the report.

Peter Mutharika, a professor at law, summoned  MDF Commander, the Inspector General of Police that time, Peter Mukhito, at his house in Area 43 in Lilongwe. Present during the meeting were also Gondwe and  Msaka. The meeting was held around 5 o’clock in the evening on 5th April 2012.

“The Commission was informed that at the meeting, Hon. Goodall Gondwe requested General Odillo if the Malawi Defence Force could take over Government in the event that their plan was not supported by the people and violence ensued. The Malawi Defence Force was being requested in that event to take over the Government until the situation had stabilized after which the Malawi Defence Force would hand over power back to the politicians,” reads the report.

‘Mid-night six’ 

The report also  gives considerable detail that depicts details of the infamous  six cabinet ministers who addressed a controversial  news conference  at night on April 5, 2012 to announce the blocking of Banda from assuming the presidency.

The former ministers were Patricia Kaliati, who read the statement during the news conference, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, Dr Jean Kalilani, Henry Mussa, Nicholas Dausi and Kondwani Nakhumwa.

They are all members of the opposition DPP which was in power when late Mutharika was Head of State.

The Commission said it established that  the ‘midnight six’ were assisted in the drafting of the statement by Msaka, the then  Deputy Chief Secretary, Necton Mhura and the President’s Legal Advisor, Allan Ntata.

“This is the statement that came to be popularly known as ‘the Midnight Six Statement’ following its airing by a team of six ministers close to midnight on the MBC Television on 6th April  2012,” reads the report.

Court battle abandoned

A plot to mount a legal challenge against President Banda for taking over power was abandoned on the morning of 7th April 2012, the report said0

The Commission established that the  then Minister of Justice,  Ephraim Mganda Chiume (now foreign affairs minister), and the then Attorney General, Mbendera, agreed between them not to proceed with the matter. The Attorney General then instructed Dr. Zolomphi Nkowani not to proceed with the process.

The report says after the Attorney General declined to proceed with the court process, a private lawyer, Tamando Chokotho, was contacted that morning of 7th April 2012 to take over the case on behalf of the DPP in its own interest as a political party but  Chokotho refused to take up the instruction.

 Prosecutors to decide

Singini, who chaired the Commission, said their work “was not a criminal investigation but rather it was an Inquiry to unravel the events of the period.”

He however added that “the Commission is of the view that relevant authorities will be able to draw whatever conclusions they may deem proper from the facts as laid bare in this Report.”

President Banda told Parliament when she set up the commission that “depending on the outcome [of the inquiry], appropriate action will be taken for important lessons to be learned.”

Mutharika, who had been president since 2004, died on April 5 , 2012  following a heart attack, the inquiry ruled and that he died while having a meeting with Lilongwe legislator Agnes Penemulungu in his office.

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