Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa risks losing his Area 10 house in Lilongwe, which he bought from Tobacco Commission (TC) at K125 million in 2018 as it was allegedly acquired illegally.
Correspondences Weekend Nation has seen show that TC is pushing to reposes the house on grounds that it was purchased without following due process, and that Nankhumwa was not even the highest bidder.
In an interview this week, Nankhumwa confirmed of the dispute, but could not be drawn to comment further, save for insisting that he followed all processes and that he has no knowledge of any alleged illegality in acquiring the property.
Said Nankhumwa: “Otherwise, the matter is being handled by my lawyer and I have nothing much to say at the moment.”
A letter from TC to Nankhumwa, dated June 17 2021, titled Settlement Proposal on Disposal of Plot Numbers 10/470 (Title Number Alimaunde 10/292) states that the evaluation of the bids and the award of the contract to Nankhumwa was not done by the structures mandated to do so under the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA).
The letter, signed by the commissions chief executive officer Joseph Chidanti-Malunga, also points out that Nankhumwa was offered the house despite his bid being K25 million less than that of the highest bidder.
Reads the letter, in part: “It is our intention to resolve this matter amicably, without subjecting it to further legal process which may include criminal proceedings against the persons involved since the actions complained of constitute offences under the PPDA Act.
“We, therefore, on a without prejudice basis, propose that we resolve the matter by cancelling the entire sale, the institution will refund you the money paid as consideration for the sale.”
In his response to the proposal, Nankhumwa’s lawyer Mkwima Mchizi, in a letter dated June 21 2021 addressed to Chidanti-Malunga, refused the offer, arguing that his client responded to a public bid advertised on March 17 2018, and that all processes were followed.
“Our client does not have any knowledge of the illegality alleged nor the fact that you [commission] were bound to accept the highest bidder as insinuated in your letter,” argues Nankhumwa’s lawyer.
The Office of the Ombudsman in its report into alleged abuse of office at the commission, which was released in May this year, faulted the sale of two institutional houses, including the one bought by Nankhumwa—and another one in Chigumula in Blantyre which was bought by Jayshree Patel —saying the properties were sold against a ban on sale of institutional houses.
According to a government circular dated September 30 2003, Ref No.MH/HOS/03/05/85, addressed to all controlling officers, a meeting of some controlling officers on September 12 2003 resolved that all categories of institutional houses were not for sale.
“In the meantime, the Ministry of Housing is seeking Cabinet decision on the same matter. When a decision is made, a circular will be issued,” reads the communication which was signed by then secretary for Housing Hawa Ndilowe.
In a telephone interview last week, TC board chairperson Harry Mkandawire indicated that the commission is ready to refund Nankhumwa and Patel their money, and repose the houses.
Mkandawire also indicated that the TC board referred the matter to police for investigation, adding that the Ombudsman’s report directed the board to take remedial action to address the findings of the audit into the disposal of the property.
Mkandawire said that Patel agreed to be refunded her money but, also, requested additional funds for some of the renovations done to the house.
Said Mkandawire: “As board, we are not ready to pay for the renovations because title deeds for the house were not changed, we still technically own the house.”
Patel confirmed, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, that she is ready to surrender back the house and get her money.
The commission wants to cancel the sale of the house for Patel, on Plot Number CG88 (Title Number Chigumula 22), on allegations that she did not bid for the property and it was sold at a price below valuation and at an amount lower than other bidders.