Media practitioners that had dinner with President Peter Mutharika at Sanjika Palace last Tuesday have been commenting on revelations that the Head of State gave the cash handouts of K50,000, saying they were rather ‘ambushed’ to receive the money.
Times TV editor and columnist Graciun Tukula first went public about the money that was given to the media practitioners which triggered scatching attack from Malawi law professor Danwood Chirwa, calling it “bribery.”
Media trainer Dr Levi Zeleza Manda told Nyasa Times that Chirwa, a professor of law at the prestigious University of Cape Town in South Africa, “is right” to accuse the President.
Manda said the journalists were “ in a fix” because they were deceived to receive envelops purportedly containing documents of President’s media freedom literature yet to discover cash was in it.
“Would it have been appropriate to give back the money there and then? If they were honest with themselves that money should have been declared to their newsrooms or donated to charity. That’s what happens elsewhere. I find the justification by some recipients that actually that money was their tax to be tantamount to justifying the looting called cashgate by fellow tax payers,” Manda said in comments made to Nyasa Times.
On Misa-Malawi internet discussion forum for media practitioners, the matters has dominated debate and also on social media platform , Facebook.
It emerged through the discussions that Nation Publication Limited editor George Kasakula did not take home the blue envelop after realising it contained cash.
“For the record, George Kasakula returned the money to Frederick Ndala [presidential press secretary] the same night. At least clap hands for him!” wrote BBC correspondent and Muckracking columnist Raphael Tenthani.
Tenthani disclosed that he and other journalists have committed to channel the money for charity towards the health bill of former Malawi News editor Limbani Moya, currently in India to undergo a kidney transplant.
He defended journalists for collecting the money.
“Look, the whole thing was shambolically organised. When we got the invite some of us asked what’s on the agenda. We were told it’s an ‘interface’ with the President, he airs out his frustrations/concerns, we air ours. But come the day the President indeed asked for comments from his guests after his speech but MC Timpunza Mwansambo decided to curtail the whole thing. I’m not sure whether this was planned or Timpunza was just being overzelous.
“Then Kondwani Nankhumwa [Minister of Information] lied to us that everyone should get a folder which contained the President vision on press freedom in Malawi. Everyone was surprised to see that the President’s ‘vision’ only included an embosed folder with a blank writing pad, an engraved pen and a white envelope! Some just sent the folders to their drivers without checking what’s in there. So they discovered the ‘trick’ at home. “
Tenthani confessed that he discovered the ‘trick’ there and then but did not return the money and justified the reasons behind.
“A few of us agonised over how to react. We agreed this was plain wrong. But returning the money then could have served no purpose because the State House ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ could have had just shared the money among themselves.
“Of course, with hindsight, that could have even been a better story for someone could gotten in trouble.
Going forward, some of us have decided not to return the money to State House but to donate the K50,000 to a fund created for our colleague Limbani Moya who is battling kidney failure in India.”
Tenthani, one of the influential columnist who offers objective critique on social and political issues, said the Presidential “bribe” will not “mellow our fingers or inks.”
He called the Sanjika saga as “the most stupid way to bribe people for lack of a better word. Why lie there was a booklet where there was none? Perhaps he was afraid that if he mentioned the ‘white’ envelops (clever crooks use brown!) some of us could have had time to think properly.”
Tenthani stated: “As it was State House ambushed us. And, as Gracian Tukula rightly put it, returning the money there and then could have cause a scene.”
Prof Chirwa said the President’s conduct constitutes crimes under sections 25B and 26 of the Corrupt Practices Acts.
Before the meeting with the President, Ministry of Information said in a statement that government would pay journalists travelling outside Blantyre K30,000 each as accommodation allowance. The money was paid plus K50,000 from the President.
Presidential spokesman Ndala did not respond to a request for comment.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :