Beam cashes in on ‘charity’

  • Leases out refuse trucks to BCC without tender
  • Council owes Beam 18 months payment

The First Lady’s charity has gone into business, leasing out donated trucks to Blantyre City Council (BCC) in a deal that appears to have violated procurement rules.

Beautify Malawi, a charity founded by Gertrude Mutharika, wife of President Peter Mutharika, received the trucks as a donation from the government of the People’s Republic of China in May 2016.

Mutharika founded Beam as a charitable organisation

However, they were leased to the council as refuse collection vehicles a year later, according to Beam’s chairperson Dingiswayo Jere.

He confirmed that the council is still using the vehicles, but has not paid Beam for 2018 and 2019—supporting allegations heard by Weekend Nation, that BCC is struggling to pay its debts to the charity.

Jere said, in 2017, BCC signed a year’s contract with Beam to provide two trucks at a total of K60 000 per day.

Annualised, that amounts to K22 million that the council paid Beam in 2017.

“I bet that you won’t find a refuse collector who can leased out a lorry for so little,” Jere said.

Kasunda: There is a standing agreement

Council spokesperson Anthony Kasunda confirmed that the deal did not go out to tender.

He also said the council did not seek approval from the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA), as required by Malawian procurement law.

In terms of the legislation, all contracts valued over K10 million must go out to tender.

Kasunda said there was no formal contract for the leasing of the two trucks, which had been governed by a “standing agreement”.

He did not explain the difference between a contract and a “standing agreement” and refused to provide Weekend Nation with a copy of the agreement.

“The council did not go out looking for refuse collection vehicles,” said Kasunda, adding: “The council only took advantage of the memorandum of understanding, which it signed a long time ago with Beam, requesting for the vehicles.”

He confirmed that the council has 11 refuse trucks that are all in working order.

“Yes, we have 11 vehicles. But for the council to provide adequate services, we need at least 40,” he said.

According to Jere, the deal with the council was meant for the year 2017 only. But he confirmed that the council had continued using them up to the present, but had not paid for them in 2018 and 2019.

“Yes [it is true] that they have not paid us, but we are still engaging them so that they pay the money,” he said.

He said the 2017 contract had not been extended, but said the council had indicated that it was interested in continuing to use the vehicles.

Kasunda did not answer a question from Weekend Nation about why the council failed to return the vehicles to Beam upon the expiry of the contract.

He denied that the council was struggling to pay Beam for 2018 and 2019, saying it had agreed to pay “a token of appreciation to the (Beam) Trust and it honours that commitment”.

It is unclear what “token of appreciation” he was referring to.

Beam is a non-profit organisation that describes itself on its website as “an indigenous NGO registered under the Trust Incorporation Act”, which believes that “a cleaner and healthier Malawi is possible”.

It gets most of its donations from the government of the People’s Republic of China and some companies in Malawi.

Asked why Beam had started operating as a commercial organisation, Jere said Beam is not legally barred from making a profit.

“We are not a profit-making organisation, but we are not barred from making money that can help the institution fulfil its objectives.  The donation we got needs to be maintained and sustained to continue to serve Malawians,” he said.

However, Jere also said Beam obtained permission from Malawi Non-Governmental Board to start operating commercially.

“We need money in many areas, for example, to maintain the vehicles, [so] we asked NGO Board to guide us [and] it cleared us,” said Jere.

But Kasunda contradicted this, saying that, according to the agreement, “it is the council’s responsibility to service the vehicles”.

The NGO Board would not confirm this. The board’s chairperson, Voice Mhone—who was appointed by President Mutharika—referred Weekend Nation to the board’s communications officer, Joel Mkandawire.

Mkandawire did not respond to a set of questions sent to him on July 3. Reminded six days later, he WhatsApped: “Hi Bobby, I will get back to you in two hours’ time.”

Repeated attempts to contact him over the last two weeks were unsuccessful.

Weekend Nation understands that in terms of the 2017 contract, the council is required to use its own funds to repair the vehicles in case of breakdown.

On why the council had failed to clear the deal with the government’s procurement authority, as required by law, Kasunda repeated his claim that there was a “standing agreement with Beam on issues of waste management”.

Spokesperson in the office of the director of public procurement, Mary Mbekeani, said the authority had not seen any signed agreement between Beam and BCC.

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