Why President Mutharika must act with speed

In the Straight Talk programme, Capital Radio’s Brian Banda asked President Bingu wa Mutharika’s spokesperson, Dr Hetherwick Ntaba, why the President had not acted on some of the straightforward issues raised in the July 20th petition, such as the K1.4 million monthly salary to the First Lady Mrs Callista Mutharika for charity work and, secondly, a detailed explanation of where the President got his sudden wealth he used to construct the opulent Ndata Private Palace in Thyolo district. Brian spoke for many of us.

 Issue No. 1, the salary of the First Lady.

Why would it need the ongoing negotiations for it to be acted on? Mrs Mutharika is being paid a fortune for doing nothing, unless you count occasionally showing up at some hospital to deliver a speech, or donating some items bought by government money at another hospital.

Does Mrs Mutharika go to an office at the Ministry of Health from 7:30 to five o’clock every day to coordinate safe motherhood? No. She stays at home, except for the sporadic public appearances aforementioned. We pay her a fortune per month for that. It is our money, taxpayers’ money, lest we forget. It’s not like her position was needed in the first place.

Mutharika family government: Bingu and Callista

Vice President Mrs Joyce Banda was doing this work for no pay at all, yet President Mutharika snatched this charity post from her to give to his wife as an excuse for lavishing millions of taxpayers’ money on her. Well, Mr President, there are many ways you can make your wife happy, but not by using taxpayers’ money for charity work. You should feel guilty for doing so.

This money should have been better spent on procuring medical supplies which are always short in our hospitals. We are talking of more than K15 million per year here, which, by 2014, shall have accumulated to more than K60 million if you do not give her a raise. Such an amount of money could make motherhood a whole lot safer than the speeches she delivers once in a while.

 The second issue is the construction of the Ndata Private Palace, including the expensive dam next to it. Some estimators are suggesting that more than $10 million could have been spent on the construction of this palace. That, Mr President, is a lot of money, given the fact that seven years ago, you declared your wealth as $1 million, much of which was not cash but Bineth Farm in Zimbabwe, which you have not sold.

In the seven years you have been in office, your accumulated monthly salary of K2.4 million would be no more than US$1.3 million in total. Where, then, has the fortune for constructing the palace come from? Questions like these would better be handled by a simple explanation of the source of your wealth so that we can put to rest suspicions of corruption and plundering of our fragile economy for purposes of self-enrichment.

This is an important matter, Mr President, given the fact that you promised zero-tolerance on corruption. It would bolster your credibility to prosecute former President Mr Bakili Muluzi, who is also suspected of enriching himself through corruption. What right does your government now have to ask Mr Muluzi to explain the source of his wealth when you yourself cannot explain how you became mega-rich overnight?

Brian Banda asked relevant questions (for which he has since been threatened with death), but it was a huge disappointment to hear Dr Ntaba fail to answer them. These are simple issues that can be solved in less than 30 minutes. There is absolutely no need to rely on the ongoing negotiations to put these matters to rest.

I know that asking tough questions these days is to our own peril, given the murderous gang on the loose, sending death threats through text messages and emails, but no amount of intimidation will stop us from exercising our right to know.

In any case, these threats make it rather obvious that there is something more sinister behind the scenes than the nation is aware of. Where clean hands are involved, threats of such nature do not exist, and students are not clobbered to death for pointing out such wrongs. Do something to address these issues Mr President, and do so with speed, if possible.

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