Smokes and mirrors: Unpacking the Paul Mphwiyo saga

Ever since Paul Mphwiyo, the Budget Director at Treasury was shot last weekend, some sections of the media seem to have been peddling the notion that he was some hero on a mission to burst some high level syndicates that are alleged to be plundering government coffers. Indeed, for someone who knows nothing about this man, the impression you get is that of well-meaning, anti-graft crusader stopped by an assassin’s bullet. How I wish that was true?

To start with, what happened to this gentleman was unfortunate and should be condemned in the strongest terms. What happened to him is not something one would wish even on the worst of enemies. He has a family that loves and cares for him – a wife and children, parents, siblings and this is hard on all them. From that point of view, I sympathise with them and I wish him quick recovery.

Having said that, I believe some corrections need to be made about who Paul Mphiyo really is.

Mphwiyo: Jig-saw
Mphwiyo: Jig-saw

Firstly, the gentleman is being portrayed as an Ivy League trained graduate. For those who do not know, Ivy league colleges comprises eight American universities, namely Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University. Ivy League originally referred to a collegiate athletic conference composed of sports teams from these eight institutions. The conference name is also commonly used to refer to those eight schools as a group and has since gained currency in terms of connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism.

Well, from what I know, this gentleman went to Chanco for his first degree and got his masters in Kenya. Last time I checked, neither Malawi nor Kenya has an Ivy League University. He claims to have several degrees from Columbia University but we are yet to see proof of that. Granted, he is said to be pursuing a PhD at Columbia University, but until then, I am yet to be convinced of his Ivy League status.

As mentioned earlier, the media has also created the impression that he is on a mission to put a stop to corruption within the government system. To say the least, I personally would be the first one to celebrate this notion had he indeed been doing that. But unfortunately, knowing what I know about this gentleman, it will take more than just a Damascus Road experience for this Paul to even start thinking of opposing underhand dealings anywhere.

Ask any of the several thousands of students who brushed shoulders with him in the corridors of Chancellor College in the mid 90s and chances are that you will have trouble finding just one person who will describe him as a stand up guy.

However, none of them will have any difficulties in remembering that this gentleman, was probably the first student to ever convince a ruling regime, the UDF at that time, that he was capable of doing underhand work for them to an extent the he was given a Nissan Twin cabin to be running UDF operations and we all know what those operations were. No student has been able to break that record since Paul left Chanco.

After graduating from college he graduated into bigger things that we just do not have room for in this article. But in a nutshell, let us just say he has done extremely well on a civil servant’s salary. After spending less than 15 years in the civil service, the gentleman can easily afford an executive mansion in the Capital’s prestigious Area 43and the house comes complete with expensive CCTV cameras all round. On a civil servant’s salary, he has managed to buy several brand new vehicles including Toyota Fortuners. Barely 2 months as Budget Director, he has managed to get himself a Toyota VX from Toyota Malawi.

Just two weeks ago he and a buddy of his answering to the name of Pika, flew business class to Johannesburg where they hosted a binge party with friends at the expensive Michalengelo Hotel in Sandton from Thursday to Sunday. The cheapest drink they had was Blue Label and Hennessey Cognac.

Let it be mentioned here that this Pika fellow is the same one that some quarters have been saying he was one who was hired to organize the hit. While anything is possible under the sun, it must be understood that if Pika, indeed, organized the hit, then it can only be as a result of personal disagreements between the two and not under the influence of a third party.

For one, Pika’s brother was the one who kept Paul in his house while Paul was a still poor civil servant. Besides, it is clear that whatever fortune Paul has come across in the past few months has also affected Pika as they seem to be buying these brand new cars together, owning a total of over 12 new vehicles between them. They fly business class together and as it were, they were due to fly to Michelangelo last Sunday. They are that close.

But then it could as well be that Paul is just a successful businessperson, gaining his sudden wealth fair and square. Should that be the case, I will be very happy for him. In fact, I would love to learn how he does his business because, as it were, he would be the first businessman I know of who flashes money at drinking joints, buying expensive alcoholic drinks for everyone.

If you are in Lilongwe and are familiar with the Lilongwe social circuit of the City’s middle class, you need no introduction to his social behavior. His drink of choice is a brand of whisky which he buys in bottles – not shots – at a cost of K17,000 a bottle. His adventures with married women are common knowledge amongst Lilongwe socialites.

Just one night before the incident, he was at an exclusive bar known as Game Vision, which is situated at Pacific Mall in Area 10 where he was drinking and having a good time with friends and a  married woman. The lady left the place around 10 PM but he remained behind and continued drinking. Later he phoned the lady but it was the husband who answered the phone and warned him that he will deal with him unless he stops chasing his wife. The police can easily confirm this by checking with the club as well as his phone records for that night.

On the day of the shooting, the gentleman visited Alexander Club after knocking off from work, where he ordered a good amount of whiskey. After some time, he went out to leave his jacket in the car, came back and ordered some more whiskey. After drinking for a while he, again, went to his car to leave his waistcoat. On his way back he met with some curios sellers who had come to confront him over some foreign exchange deal they had been doing for him for which they were not paid. The issue quickly got out of hand and it took the help of his buddies, Pika and another Chivunde to rescue him and spirit him away from the scene. Again, the police can easily verify this by simply interviewing curios dealers operating from the scene.

After escaping the scene, he did not go home but proceeded to another club, O’Thambi situated at the Chinese Square, where he bought drinks for everyone in the bar. He stayed and continued drinking at the place before proceeding, not home, but to, yet another drinking joint known as Africanas. He drank some more there and that is when he proceeded to go home where he met his fate.

Police can also easily confirm that whoever shot him at the gate was likely a familiar person to him as it is clear that he rolled down his car window probably to speak to the person. After being shot, reports indicate that he proceeded to drive into his yard and, in his drunken stupor stumbled into the house and started looking for his gun before he was stopped by the wife and rushed him to the hospital.

At the hospital he wrote on his own accord, that he suspected that the people who were after him were business people involved in pharmaceuticals who he said were pushing to have their money owed by government to be paid. This too, the police can easily verify.

Now, does this sound like a crusader against fraud and corruption? Firstly, if it is true that he was receiving death threats as it has been reported in the press, does his behavior, particularly on the days preceding the shooting, indicative of someone living in the shadow of death threats? Do people whose life is really at risk go about town, gallivanting and drinking throughout the night?

Secondly, was he really trying to seal loopholes in government fraudulent expenditure as it is being claimed or was he partaking in the plunder? Most people at Treasury Department know that his appointment as Budget Director was met with a lot of resistance as most people know what he is capable of doing since the days at Chanco.

Thirdly, as far as his work is concerned anyone who knows how the government funding system works will tell you that a Budget Director is in no position to stop any fraud in government. All a Budget Director does is to prepare a budget and ensure that payments are funded properly. The responsibility of detecting and preventing fraud or abuse in the government fiscal system lies with the Auditor General with the help of the Accountant General.

And so in conclusion the facts point at one thing and one thing only: that he brought this on himself through his dealings, be it sleeping with other people’s wives, or indeed, a consequence of his get-rich-quick dealings. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with him trying to stop fraud because he simply does not have that capacity: his official designation is too impotent to stop fraud in government fiscal system while his personal character is the very antithesis of Mr. Clean.

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