Minister Lipenga enters ‘ignorance’ defence

As pressure continues to mount on Malawi’s Finance Minister Ken Lipenga to resign following his own confession that he lied to Malawians during the midterm budget review earlier this year where he told parliament that the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) collected above the projected revenue of K115 billion, he has mounted his defence campaign from the “mess” by playing the “ignorance” card.

Member of Parliament for Balaka South George Nnensa revealed in the House that MRA borrowed some of the money from the local banks to give an impression that the infamous zero-deficit budget was working.

The Minister of Finance denied any knowledge of this and said that he was going to find out. MRA themselves went to the press to deny the claims by Nnensa.

Lipenga: I had no knowledge of the cooked up figures

According to Lipenga, he was only provided with the figures by his staff at the ministry and MRA adding that he had no suspicions at first.

Lipenga: I had no knowledge of the cooked up figures

“The time I was presenting the mid-term budget I didn’t know that some of the figures had been cooked,” said Lipenga.

“When honourable Nnensa made the claim I answered the way I did because I trust my staff and there was no reason to question or doubt at the time.”

Lipenga added: “It is only later when I decided to make some follow up on the claims that I was told the whole truth.”

The Minister however refused to comment on whether late president Bingu Mutharika was aware of the “cooking” of the figures by MRA staff.

“I can only speak for myself and not late Mutharika, of course after the revelations I spoke with him but since he’s now dead it won’t be proper that I say much,” he said

Lipenga also explained that   ordinarily when government wants to borrow any amount from banks minister of finance is involved but claimed that this was not the case.

Nnensa told parliament that the revised budget for 2012 was based on incorrect figures.

This was because the statement by the then President indicated that the Government had over collected by MK4.5 billion between July and December 2011. However, actual revenue figures from MRA indicated that they had under collected by over MK27 billion.

In order to hide this deficit, according to Nnesa, MRA went ahead and borrowed money from five commercial banks (Malawi Savings Bank (MSB), NBS Bank, Standard Bank, National Bank of Malawi (NBM) and INDEBANK) at the end of December 2011. The money, plus interest, was returned in January 2012. The purpose of this activity was to show high tax collections as at 31st December 2011.

On 1st March 2012, there was a motion from Hon Khwauli Msiska, MP for Karonga Nyungwe, for Parliament to summon MRA and the banks’ officials to present facts surrounding this matter. The motion was defeated by Government MPs due to their numerical superiority in Parliament.

In the afternoon of the same day, the then Leader of the House, George Chaponda, rose to demand that Nnensa  bring forth evidence to support his claim otherwise it should be thrown out as an unsubstantiated claim.

Nnensa challenged that he could bring the information if given the time, although Parliament or the Minister of Finance were better placed to verify the information he had given.

On insistence from the Leader of the House, the Speaker ruled that the lawmaker bring preliminary information on 2nd of March 2012. He was further requested to present substantive information at the next sitting of Parliament as the House was rising on 2nd March 2012.

Nnesa wrote Malawi Law Society asking the body to “take up the matter so that MRA officials and the Banks’ executives can be summoned to make declarations under oath.”

He argues that “this is an issue of national importance as it questions the credibility of MRA, the Government and the former President.”

Lipenga has since refused to step down.

“What I am emphatically stating is that I did not knowingly mislead thenational assembly. I did not knowingly present false information to parliament; therefore, in my view there is no basis for the calls,” said Lipenga on VOA.

He said accusations of deception leveled against him are unjustified.

Government spokesman  Moses Kunkuyu says  the Joyce Banda administration will soon make its position known after a thorough investigation into the controversy.


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