Malawi’s former president Joyce Banda has reacted to allegations by convicted Ministry of Tourism and Culture principal secretary (PS) Ms Treza Namathanga Senzani who is currently serving a three-year sentence after being found guilty of involvement in Cashgate—the plunder of billions of kwacha of public funds –that the highest level of Banda’s administration was involved in Cashgate.
According to witness statements tendered in court as part of the prosecution of former budget director Paul Mphwiyo— Senzani alleges that Banda told Cabinet ministers to solicit campaign funds for the May 20 Tripartite Elections from their respective ministries hence the birth of cashgate.
But in a media statement released on Monday which Nyasa Times was emailed, Banda through her media liason officer Tusekele Mwanyongo expressed “utmost shock” and “disbelief”on Senzani allegations.
“Mrs. Senzani was the only PS involved in cashgate. Mrs. Senzani was tried and convicted based on her own guilty plea and she was sentenced to serve a prison term. I am not surprised by Mrs. Senzani’s allegations because I have received information from several serving senior civil servants that they are also being pressurized by the DPP government of President Peter Mutharika to implicate me and former members of my cabinet in cashgate in the same manner Mrs. Senzani has done,” said Banda in the statement.
She said Senzani’s allegations are “unfounded”, explain that such a serious matter could have leaked immediately cabinet discussed it, as alleged, “especially considering that my cabinet was comprised of not only PP members but ministers appointed from other political parties such as AFORD and UDF. The recent leakage of cabinet resolution on the Access to Information Bill (ATI) as published in the media attests to this fact.”
The former president said the alleged cabinet meeting did not take place and that no such matter was discussed at any cabinet meeting during her tenure.
“Cabinet meetings are attended not only by ministers but also PSs and other technocrats. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest that political party matters could be discussed at a cabinet meeting when civil servants belong to different political parties. No scheme to steal government money for purposes of financing one political party would succeed because someone is bound to raise an alarm,” stated Banda.
Senzani implicates former minister of information Brown Mpinganjira and former PP official Hophmally Makande to have been key players in the plot to siphon money out of the State coffers for the political campaign.
She alleges that Mphwiyo was at the centre of the scheme which Senzani participated in alongside convicted Leonard Kalonga.
Senzani alleges that Kalonga claimed that Mphwiyo would call Makande and Mpinganjira and put their phone calls on loudspeaker to assure those involved that the move was sanctioned at “a higher level.”
But Banda said the allegations are both “confusing and contradictory.”
She stated: “ For example, she alleges that she had overheard Mr. Leonard Kalonga, Director of Tourism at that time, speaking on the phone to PP senior officials, Messrs. Brown Mpinganjira and Hophmally Makande about ‘stealing’ government money to finance PP campaign. She claims that it is that conversation that motivated her to join in and indulge in theft of government money.
“It is common knowledge that a PS is the most senior official after minister. Mr. Kalonga was an ordinary Director who did not have direct access to the PS office. One wonders where and how Mrs. Senzani ‘overheard’ Mr. Kalonga discussing such a sensitive matter with Messrs. Brown Mpinganjira and Hophmally Makande and then voluntarily decided to join the ‘bandwagon’.”
Banda continued to state: “ Malawians may wish to appreciate the fact that Mrs. Senzani is the only PS who was implicated in cashgate; tried, convicted and sentenced. If it were a cabinet decision to steal from all ministries, why were the other PSs not involved?”
The former PS who is serving a three-year custodial sentence at Maula Prison following her conviction also implicate former minister of touring Racheal Mazombwe Zulu and that she personally delivered K20 million cash looted to her.
But Banda wondered why did Senzani not consult her fellow PSs to confirm if they had received similar instructions to plunder.
“Since it was a cabinet directive as she claims who did she give the money that she stole to? Does a signature of receipt exist? One also wonders why her minister, Mrs. Rachel Mazombwe Zulu’s name, has not featured throughout Mrs. Senzani’s trial and it is only coming up now?”
In the statement, Banda made an “interesting observation” that according to investigations, cashgate occurred between April and August 2013 and that prior to that, “we have evidence that there was another cashgate of MK577 billion theft of public money between 2009 and 2012 that donors and Malawians are pressing for speedy investigation.”
She added: “ Mrs. Senzani’s mansion, which has also been a subject of cashgate investigations, was not built between April and August 2013. Looking at her income as PS, she could not have accumulated such wealth to build the said mansion. After all, she had been PS for a few months. Is it wrong therefore to suggest that the construction of that mansion in Area 36 in Lilongwe was financed by money from the MK577 billion scandal that happened during the late President Bingu wa Mutharika and DPP reign?
“ There must be a stubborn link between the MK577 billion scandal of 2009 and 2012 and the MK20 billion cashgate of 2013. This is why I insist a forensic audit into the MK577 billion must take place as a matter of urgency, especially because both incidences happened within the five-year term of President Bingu wa Mutharika, which I completed when he died in 2012.”
Banda, who currently lives outside Malawi in self -imposed exile, has always insisted of her innocence and claimed in the statement that there are regime “attempts” to tarnish her name and legacy, accuding President Peter Mutharika “personally” and the DPP government.
The former president said it is “ immoral” for her successor “ to abuse his immunity from prosecution by scandalizing my name”, saying “.I would have wished I met him in court so he can prove my guilt to the entire world. “
Banda said “Malawians are wise people and cannot listen to these shallow allegations.”
She stated: “ It does not happen anywhere in the world that a government forces people who have already been tried, convicted and sentenced to alter their statements simply to tarnish the image of political opponents.”
Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) deputy director general Reyneck Matemba, who also heads the graft-busting body’s prosecution and legal teams, confirmed about the Senzani statement as part of the disclosures in the Mphwiyo case.
Matemba has however expressed disappointment over the leakage of the witness statement before court proceedings, but acknowledged that its security was beyond the ACB after the prosecution released it to over 19 co-accused persons, including Mpwhiyo, in a case where they are accused of a role in laundering K2.4 billion (about $3.6 million).Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :