President Lazarus Chakwera says he has taken note of The Nation revelations that one of his aides smuggled a loan authorisation Bill to Parliament and has launched an investigation.
Speaking during State House Fortnightly Briefing in Lilongwe on Monday, the President’s executive assistant and State House director of communications Sean Kampondeni said the President is keen to know the presidential adviser behind the move.
He said: “The story [in The Nation] says that it [the Bill] made its way to Parliament through the influence of a State House aide. The President has taken note of the story and he has no knowledge of the individual.
“In absence of the identity of the adviser, the President is very keen to meet his advisers and ascertain who was involved. The President has spoken on a number of times that he supports independence of institutions, including the Office of the Attorney General.”
The Nation on Monday reported that Bill Number 22 of 2021 Loan Authorisation to allow government 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), on July 9 2021 found its way on the Order Paper—an outline of business to be conducted in Parliament—without the express clearance or approval from 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 senior presidential aide at State House—and by his own off the record admission—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.
In his reaction on Monday , former AG Charles Mhango described the development as a serious irregularity that must be probed.
He said: “The process as far as I know when it’s loan authorisation, it starts from the Executive with the Minister of Finance and Cabinet committees. It is not a one-man show. The minister presents it to Cabinet first for all Cabinet ministers and the President to know.
“Then it’s taken to Minister of Justice and Attorney General to draft and review and presents it to Parliament. What I am seeing as very strange is that both the AG and Minister of Justice are feigning ignorance of the Bill. This is a very serious issue.”
Some sources at Ministry of Justice and Treasury claimed that they had been receiving pressure/ instructions from one adviser to the President.
The Nation talked to the presidential adviser, but we have withheld the name because he did not want to be officially quoted.
He admitted pressuring Treasury and Justice officials to expedite the Bill because, he said, he noticed lack of interest from those who were supposed to champion the process.
He said the discussions with the financier were concluded during the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, but there has been some “sabotage to have the same implemented by the new government”.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition has expressed shock that a Bill of such a huge financial implication found itself into the House through the back door.
In December last year, President Lazarus Chakwera launched a housing project which will see government construct 10 000 houses. Out of this number, MDF and MPS are expected to have 4 000 houses each with 1 000 houses each for Prison Service and Immigration Departments.