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A Job Undone: Malawi’s Absentee Ex-President

Just a month after a brutal and embarrassing ousting from the Presidency in the 23 June 2020 Fresh Presidential Election (FPE), Peter Mutharika issued a press statement exonerating himself of his alleged involvement in a cement procurement saga that implicates the use of his Taxpayer Identification Number (TPIN) in multi-billion Kwacha deals. The losses to Malawians of government revenues are unfathomable. According to this website, the bottom line of his statement was “I was not involved; I did not instruct anyone to loot using my TPIN.” What the statement hasn’t said is his rebuttal to the accusation of the centrality of his TPIN in the tax avoidance scam, or that he let his pawns transact with it on his behalf.

By all manner of pragmatism, the statement is a futile attempt to hoodwink Malawians into embracing his innocence. Yet it bears certain elements that could be detrimental to Mr. Mutharika himself as much as his foot soldiers. The claim that he is not involved may be tantamount to suggesting that the use of his TPIN in the cement procurement deals was illegal. Norman Chisale, perhaps his most trusted accomplice, and others directly connected in the saga, now stand to be hanged for it. But Mr. Mutharika must not delude himself that this tactic comprises his salvation. In the least, Mr. Mutharika’s complicity in letting third parties mismanage his TPIN accounts for a gross offence to Malawians, considering he must have been aware how much power his name (or TPIN) wields in tax processes.

Mr. Mutharika’s note to the public also misses an important aspect on account of the patriotism expected of a Head of State. Its rash demeanor does not entice law enforcement into investigating the wherewithal by which his name has become entangled in a heist of the magnitude this is. In many ways, his behaviour shows how he has washed his hands off this country. But these issues have a way of following you until the truth is known. And Malawians, who have watched their country tossed like a bone to the dogs under his Presidency, are unflinching on the prospect of getting the old man in the dock. And neither is the new government his careless governance helped usher in.

What baffles many of us is how an ex-President could claim his hands are clean when he was supposedly in charge. Mr. Mutharika has so far shared no proof to show that he did everything within his powers to stem the deeply rooted corruption taking place right in the face let alone the cement scam that hits much closer to home. Yet, even as recently as during the Presidential campaign leading up to the 23 June FPE, he touted himself as a godsend for Malawians, a muscleman of infinite capabilities to run the country in spite of his age and cluelessness.

The implications of rubbing his hands off everything bad that transpired under his Presidency are what make it all very hard to swallow. It was certainly not hard for Mr. Mutharika to know that the hospitals run by his government were going without enough lifesaving equipment and drugs; that the roads he drove on to his rallies were more patched or potholed than his bottom would have liked; he certainly knew that the public utilities set up to produce and transmit energy across the country not only failed to improve the number of people electrified from the perennially stagnant 9-10% throughout the six years he sat on the throne, but that ESCOM was accumulating MK40 billion in debt for services that were never delivered. It’s us Malawians who will have to clean up that debt years after his departure.

No, it’s an insult to us when Mr. Mutharika claims innocence and that he didn’t have a clue what was going on with his own TPIN. Let’s assume he entrusted Peter Mukhitho and Norman Chisale – the two most-mentioned names behind the money laundering scam in the cement deals – with it in good faith, under the greatest confidence that they were going to protect its use with their lives. For years, one would have expected that the lawyer in him would routinely emerge and nudge him into checking the nature and form of transactions that the TPIN was being used against. Instead, Mr. Mutharika opted to ignore this basic instinct and went with the flow.

How could Malawians entrust such a person with their lives? What sense would it make to continue massaging a careless old man who was somehow convinced he had it all to bring the country to prosperity? The option to stay mum on the ongoings in his own life show how he did not care enough to flinch at what was happening in his wallet. We could not expect the man to balance the books of government with even a quick verification of what was happening on the ground in his country.

Many pronounced how clueless Mr. Mutharika was at running the country, let alone anything. They just got vindicated.

Peter Mutharika, we gave you a job to do. You didn’t do it. And now you must hang for it.



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