More than meets the eye with Malawi army chief’s dismissal:  Tata deal on spotlight

By | August 1, 2016

Some Malawian political analysts have on Sunday questioned President Peter Muthalika to explain what prompted him to fire Malawi Army Commander General Ignacio Maulana from the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) without giving any reason.

Maulana: Blocked the Tata deal

Maulana: Blocked the Tata deal

Muthalika fired Maulana and replaced his deputy Lieutenant General Griffin Supuni who is now deputized by Clement Namangale.

The former commander has since been redeployed to National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), according to Secretary to the government, George Mkondiwa.

Nyasa Times sources indicate that the President cracked the whip on the commander amidist reports of a  multibillion Kwacha corruption scandal where cabinet ministers are involved in illegally ‘brokering’ a deal between the Malawi Defence Forces (MDF) and Ashok Leyland, an Indian automobile manufacturing company, with the latter negotiating to supply 500 units to MDF.

The whistle blowers had informed Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) but officials at the graft-busting body informed Nyasa Times of increased meddling by the Executive to  suffocate the investigations on the matter.

Nyasa Times recently reported that there is a requirement of 500 trucks to replace the ageing TATA fleet acquired over a decade ago. The trucks shall include top carriers, water bowsers, buses and other military logistic vehicles.

Maulana is reported to have been against the deal and is accused of blocking some rotten ministers from “eating”.

As one way of facilitating wrongful enrichment in the Tata deal to go through, two influential ministers from Lhomwe belt are said to habe plotted Maulana’s downfall.

Recently,  Leyland officials included Mohan Krishnan, a Mr. Ramachandaran and Partha Chodhuru. Two of them were from Ashok Leyland Headquarters in Chennai, India, while one was from the local franchise in Blantyre  met with MDF’s Director of Logistics Elias Kapalamula and MDF’s Deputy Commander, Griffin Supuni, in mid March 2016 at Capital Hotel in Lilongwe where a provisional agreement was made that Ashok Leyland should supply the required vehicles.

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According to initial estimates, each vehicles would cost an average of USD100, 000, approximately MK65 million. The total deal may, therefore, cost the taxpayer a whooping MK32.5 billion minus shipping and other logistic costs.

The MDF is not a stranger to  corruption-related matters as Malawi’s top militarycommand have also been implicated in a corruption scandal, known locally as “Cashgate”.

On May 11, 2015, the ACB arrested former Army Commander General Henry Odillo and his former deputy, Lt. Col. Clement Kafuwa in relation to payments that were made to Thuso Investments without supplying services to the Malawi Army.

They were charged with three counts of abuse of public office, negligence by public officer in preserving money or government property and money laundering. They are currently out on bail.

The ACB claimed it had established that the Malawi Army paid close to MK2 billion (about US$4.4m) for the supply of military gear but the company never supplied despite being paid.

British audit firm Baker Tilly (now RMS)  found that the defence force had spent more than $10 million without any supporting documents.

Meanwhile, political commentators  Rafik Hajat and Henry Chingayipe   told Zodiak radio on Sunday that President Mutharika should tread carefully when using his prerogative powers in government institutions.

They observed that such tendencies defeat tentacles of democracy, transparency and accountability from the head of state that always fire and develop public officers without giving explanations.

Chingayipe, political professor from University OF Malawi , said Mutharika’s decision has a lot to be desired which is a demotion for Maulana than explanation given.

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“This deployment is surprising considering that there aren’t security lapses at NFRA that can guarantee the high profile individual from the army to head such an institution.

“Maulana was supposed to be entrusted with internal country’s security not a small institution like NFRA,” observed Chingayipe.

Echoing on the same Hajat, Institute of Policy Interaction (IPI)s Executive Director said the decision was the same as “powering a police officer with a gun to shoot an ant”.

Hajat said there is more to Maulana firing and deployment than reasons Mkondiwa has given which need to be avoided.

Maulana took over from General Henry Odillo who was dismissed by President Mutharika in June 2014  and his deputy, Major-General John Msonthi.

Odillo and Msonthi, both former diplomats, became embroiled in a constitutional crisis that blew up in April 2012 in the landlocked southern African nation after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Bingu was dead on arrival at a Lilongwe hospital after suffering a massive heart attack but his body was mysteriously flown to South Africa. The government did not announce his death for two days, stating that he was in a coma.

The delay led to fears of a power struggle between Bingu’s brother and presumed successor Peter – then foreign minister – and Vice President Joyce Banda, who was constitutionally in line to take over but who had split from the ruling party.

Amid concernsabout a possible seizure of power, Banda quickly met Odillo, who responded by securing her residence with a detachment of crack troops and publicly declaring his support for her and the constitution.

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Banda lost to Peter Mutharika in a chaotic May 20, 2014 election marred by logistical mess-ups and accusations of vote-rigging.

The new army general Supuni served as Malawi’s military attaché at Malawi Embassy in United Nations before he was appointed deputy commander.