President Peter Mutharika on Monday appeared on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s HARDtalk programme where he was interviewed by anchor, Zeinab Badawi in which among other things he commented on Malawi’s online leading news site Nyasa Times.
Pillars of Progress
BBC’s journalist pressed Mutharika to explain why Malawi is struggling to make progress while it is relative peaceful society and has stability and if it all goes down to governance.
President Mutharika picked corruption as one of the major issues derailing Malawi’s progress.
“Cashgate was a good example of corruption. We are fighting corruption,” said Mutharika.
Mutharika said he is touting “patriotism, integrity and hard work”, saying they are three pillars of his government plans to utilize and ensure progress of the country’s development.
He stressed that his administration wants to promote these three pillars of progress that support reforms and national development.
Mutharika said Malawians must be a highly principled and honest in whatever they do, saying there wouldn’t have been cashgate if Malawians were a people of integrity.
But asked that 35 percent of government funds have been “stolen in the past decade” which includes the reign of the President’s late brother , Bingu wa Mutharika’s rule, Prof Peter Mutharika said “Corruption has been there for decades. There will always be corruption in a society.”
But he stressed: “We are taking measures to stop corruption.”
Asked that he served as advisor and later minister in his brother’s government which was criticised among others for the purchase of a presidential jet, the Malawi leader said the plane was not private but a state asset.
On the presidential jet, Mutharika said: “Joyce Banda (former president) sold it. You have to ask her. She sold it; we don’t know who she told to and where the proceeds went. That is something we are investigating, that’s part of the whole cashgate.”
The jet was bought during administration of late former president Bingu wa Mutharika but the move attracted widespread criticism from the donor community and other quarters of the society.
His successor Banda later sold the plane to Virgin Islands-registered firm Bohnox Enterprise Ltd for around US$15 million but the use of the proceeds has remained a mystery, with Banda initially saying the funds were used to purchase grain.
Other officials said the jet was battered in an arms deal and that the cash-strapped Malawian government never realized any financial proceeds from the sale.
Mutharika spoke about adequately funding governance institutions in Malawi including the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).
BBC’s journalist asked Mutharika citing University of Malawi political professor Blessing Chinsinga saying efforts to root out corruption in Malawi do not stick because the existing institutions makes it most impossible to introduce changes that can effectively stamp out corruption. She asked how serious Mutharika is about reforms and if it is not just “window dressing.”
Mutharika maintained his zero tolerance stance to corruption.
“It’s very difficult, its endemic, it’s deeply rooted. But we are fighting it,” said Mutharika on corruption.
Mutharika said: “Cashgate is at the centre of the [corruption] situation in Malawi. It’s much more serious than the international community think.”
He said “Cashgate was done by the previous government,” saying aid sanctions to his administration will only be punishing wrong people.
“In the end people will suffer when donors withhold support. What is currently happening in Malawi is very serious. We have no medicine in the hospitals because the donors left” said Mutharika.
Mutharika also said the country still need donors as the country moves in the painful path to economic sovereignty.
“Malawi needs about 5 years to be self-sufficient, to gradually change from an importing to an exporting nation. But in the mean time, we do need assistance during this crisis period,” he added.
‘Becareful with Nyasa Times’
BBC journalist asked President Mutharika on land rights. The Malawi leader dismissed a report which indicated there is land grab from villagers by multilateral organisations.
During the interview, BBC’s Badawi cited Nyasa Times article which indicated for 35 years now, more than 400 subsistence farmers at Chisita in Malawi’s central region have been traversing the country’s courts, nongovernmental organisations and the offices of the Ombudsman in a bid to reclaim 600 hectares of land, which Illovo Malawi occupied in 1979.
The farmers claim the company, in collusion with a senior chief, pushed them off their land and illegally converted it into part of its behemoth sugar cane plantation.
“Some of these civil society organisations you have to be very careful with the way they analyse situations,” said Mutharika in reference to Landnet NGO which Badawi refered in the Nyasa Times story.
“No foreigner can acquire a land in Malawi except where they are going to industrialise for certain period of time,” he explained.
BBC journalist read to President Mutharika a quote from Nyasa Times in August last year by farmer Peter Kaunda: “I lost three hectares which were my livelihood. They pushed us to the hills where the land is infertile. Now I am suffering.”
Mutharika asked: “This is Nyasa Times the online publication?”
BBC’s Badawi said “yes”.
“You have to be very careful, very careful with these publications including Nyasa Times.”
He suspected the person quoted by the online publication does not exists.
“If he does exists this so called Peter Kaunda, maybe he does, if he does we will investigate. Its first time I am hearing this,” said Mutharika.
The Nyasa Times articled referred to was also published in South African based Mail & Guardian newspaper. It was authored by Collins Mtika a founder of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Malawi (CIJM) who also heads the investigations desk at Nyasa Times.
Mutharika talked about his reform agenda, saying he has the “confidence” to turn around Malawi economy and that he was lured many investors, stressing he is “very excited about that.”
The Malawi leader gave the BBC an interview in London where he was last week on official visit. He left Malawi for Commonwealth summit in Malta on 22 November 2015 from where he proceeded to the Global African Investment Summit in London before he attended the China-Africa summit in South Africa.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :