- Police arrest President’s adviser, Treasury official
President Lazarus Chakwera has fired his special adviser on special duties Pastor Martin Thom barely two days after The Nation investigations established that he “smuggled” a multi-billion kwacha loan authorisation Bill into Parliament.
It never rained but it poured for Thom as hours before the President cracked his whip, he was also arrested alongside Ministry of Finance Debt and Aid Management director Nations Msowoya in connection with a probe into the mysterious push of the Bill to the July 9 2021 Order Paper—an outline of business to be tackled in Parliament.
In an interview yesterday, the President’s executive assistant and State House director of communication Sean Kampondeni said that prior to Thom’s arrest the President had established his adviser’s “unsanctioned involvement in placing undue pressure on independent government institutions”.
He said: “The President has ordered the chief of staff to terminate the adviser’s services with immediate effect.”
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said in a statement that the two were arrested in Lilongwe on allegations of abuse of office and making false documents.
“The two suspects are in custody at Lilongwe Police Station. Police will give more details later regarding the arrests,” he said.
In its August 2 2021 front page exclusive story, The Nation reported that Bill Number 22 of 2021—which sought to authorise government to borrow 98 360 000 euro (about K93 billion) to finance construction of houses for security agencies such as the Police and Malawi Defence Force (MDF)—found its way on the Order Paper without the clearance of relevant offices, namely the Office of the Attorney General(AG), Cabinet Committee on Legal Affairs and Ministry of Justice. The Bill was later silently removed after the scandal came to light.
The Nation investigations showed that a presidential aide, by his own off the record admission when contacted, pressurised officials at the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance and Parliament to cut corners and have the Bill tabled.
Procedurally, the Office of the AG has to clear every government Bill before it goes to Parliament while Cabinet also has to approve the same. Neither of this happened.
Parliamentary Standing Order 121 states that the AG has to sign government Bills that Capital Hill originates as does the Attorney General’s Memorandum on Drafting of Bills in Malawi.
Stages in processing a Bill also stipulate that once a Bill is cleared by Cabinet it has to be published and thereafter placed before the House, normally 21 days before the House meets.
Both Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo—whose ministry is responsible for drafting of all government Bills and chairs the Cabinet Committee on Legal Affairs—and former AG Chikosa Silungwe denied approving the Bill.
Reacting to The Nation revelations on Monday, Kampondeni said the President had taken note of the issue and was probing the matter.
In an interview on Monday, former AG Charles Mhango described the development as a serious irregularity that needed to be probed.
The Public Finance Management Act (Section 3) empowers the Minister of Finance in matters such as of Money Bills to be responsible to the National Assembly and Cabinet not only in preparation and presentation of economic and fiscal policy, but also in “ensuring internal controls and guidelines exist for the use of public money and public resources”.
Parliament spokesperson Ian Mwenye said in an interview that instructions to publish Money Bills come from the Executive branch of government and that they are not discussed by the Business Committee.
He said: “Once received, any published Money Bill is not discussed by the Business Committee since they are all standard and by publication of the Bill, it means Ministry of Finance will have finished all necessary processes which do not involve Parliament.”
Mwenye said Bill 22 of 2021 was properly published in the Gazette; hence, this was sufficient reason for Parliament to place it on the Order Paper.
But his version contradicted the procedure Solicitor General Reyneck Matemba and Silungwe outlined to The Nation as both indicated that all Bills, including loan authorisation ones, go through the Business Committee for approval before placing them on the Order Paper.
Matemba said procedurally, once a Bill has been drafted based on instructions, it is sent back to the requesting ministry, department or agency (MDA) to look at it and, if the MDA has no issues, they are supposed to take it to the AG for clearance before it goes to a Special Cabinet Committee which later refers the same to the full Cabinet.
A trail of correspondence between Treasury and Ministry of Justice, both e-mail and memos, show that instructions to prepare the Bill came from Msowoya who wrote the Solicitor General, on behalf of the Secretary to the Treasury, on June 21 2021.
In an earlier interview with The Nation, Msowoya confirmed issuing the instructions, saying it is a normal internal procedure, but declined to take further questions, as he does not speak for Treasury.
In December last year, the President launched a housing project which will see government construct 10 000 houses. Out of this number, MDF and Police are expected to have 4 000 houses each with 1 000 houses each for Prison Service and Immigration Departments.