As the saga of former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s accumulation of wealth calculated to be more than K61 billion based on preliminary estimates continues, all eyes should be on Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda’s role in how he abated the hiding of such vital information—at least a good chunk of it—to Malawians.
Despite pressure from the likes of Malawi Law Society (MLS) and other civil society Oorganisations (CSOs) urging Chimunthu Banda to divulge details of Mutharika’s wealth after the fallen leader declared his assets soon after his re-election in 2009, the Speaker refused to make Mutharika’s declaration public.
I remember that one of the petitions that CSOs gave to government during the July 20 2012 game-changing protests was for Mutharika’s declared assets to be made public.
CSOs queried the wealth Mutharika had amassed, citing construction of Ndata mansion that many speculated to have cost K500 million to build by a person whose declared wealth in 2005 was around K136 million of largely non-productive assets and his major steady source of income was roughly K35 million annually in honest presidential perks.
In December 2011, Chimunthu Banda confirmed in an interview withWeekend Nation that then president Mutharika and members of Parliament (MPs) declared their assets soon after the 2009 elections.
Section 88 of the Republican Constitution requires the President, Cabinet members and MPs to declare their assets within three months after an election.
Such disclosure, according to the section, “shall be made in a written document delivered to the Speaker of the National Assembly who shall immediately upon receipt deposit the document with such public office as maybe specified in the Standing Orders of Parliament”.
Chimunthu Banda, however, refused to make the declarations public for citizens to inspect, saying “the law does not say anything on how the Speaker would process the declarations…the law is silent.”
This position ran counter to the precedence set in 2005 when Mutharika’s wealth went public.
What Chimunthu Banda did was to take advantage of the silence in the law in explicitly providing for making the declarations public, to hide crucial facts from Malawians whom, as head of the arm of government that directly represents the people, the Speaker should have been accountable to.
Chimunthu Banda neglected—conveniently I suspect—to look at the objective of the constitutional provision, which is leadership transparency to the citizens whose resources they manage so that the people are able to hold their leaders accountable.
If the objective of the law was merely to have the political Executive and Legislature just declare their assets in a written document that would be kept secret, then such efforts would merely be for show and not to substantively provide checks and balances.
The letter and spirit of the law was what happened in 2005: The public had to know the details of Mutharika’s wealth to the last tambala for them to compare against his riches on exit.
The question is: What was Chimunthu Banda hiding? Was he trying to protect Mutharika?
If, so, protect him from what? (Of course, we now have an idea). Why, if at all, did Chimunthu Banda feel that he had to protect the Head of State?
To whom did the Speaker’s loyalty lie? Was it the citizens who—just a few months ago he wanted to lead and may try to do so again in future—or to a fellow politician? Chimunthu Banda must answer all these questions because they hinge on his own credibility and the kind of leader he is, having betrayed Malawians’ trust.
I want to believe that had Malawians known about the billions Mutharika had accumulated by 2009, they would have found a way of stopping that arrogant strongman in his tracks, probably impeach him through Parliament for abuse of office and then drag him kicking and screaming to courts to face justice and repay the money.
Instead, thanks to Chimunthu Banda, the dirty truth is coming posthumously after the thieving leader is six feet under something called Mpumulo wa Bata at Ndata in Thyolo that may even have been built with a fraction of the ill-gotten wealth.
Given the awkward situation Chimunthu Banda has put Malawians in, the least he can do is to make Mutharika’s assets public now. It will help in shaping debate on the ongoing Mutharika saga.
The late move won’t wipe out Chimunthu Banda’s betrayal, neither can it rebuild his reputation as a man once seen as having relative integrity and a potential State president.
But at least it will give Malawians some hope in their country’s multiple gang-raped legal and regulatory framework.