Malawi 24

MCP: A party on the rise but hubris could make it lose everything

There are all signs that the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is in serious contention for the spot of ruling party in the 2019 elections. Even an Afrobarometer survey, the likes of which predicted a Peter Mutharika victory in 2014, indicated in May this year that if elections had been conducted at the time, 32% of Malawians said they would have voted for the MCP presidential candidate, 27% for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), 11% for the United Democratic Front (UDF), and 7% for the People’s Party (PP) – ceteris paribus. An overwhelming majority of Malawians, regardless of party affiliation, said at the time the country is “going in the wrong direction.”

But the survey was conducted precisely two years before the elections, and two years in politics is an eternity. A lot could change. There could be a tectonic shift of unimaginable proportions as grand alliances are made, and back-room horse-trading reshapes the race.

Chakwera’s MCP could win 2019 elections

There is also the matter of rigging which surveys of the Afrobarometer type do not take into account.

Despite all that, there is no denying the fact that the momentum is now with MCP. Several weeks ago, for instance, MCP trounced DPP in all the three parliamentary by-elections, and also in two out of three local government elections. Tellingly, DPP lost in its own backyard.

This time last year few would have foreseen MCP being in such a formidable position. Ousted from power in 1994, the party has struggled to disassociate itself from the past. The thirty years it had been in power saw hundreds killed, detained without trial or exiled. This is a fact of history no one can change or rewrite. Many who have been voters over the last 20 years may have been alive when former President, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was kicked out of power and tried for the murders of three cabinet ministers and one Member of Parliament (Aaron Gadama, Twaibu Sangala, Dick Matenje and David Chiwanga) back in 1983. For good effect, I am pasting below the witness account of Inspector Leonard Winesi Mpagaja, one of the nine surviving police witnesses back in 1995 who made the trip to Mwanza with the victims that doomed May 18, 1983 night. The dialogue between the commission of inquiry and the inspector is familiar: it is, in essence, the dialogue of a Greek tragedy, the words of a Clytemnestra in answer to the ritual questions of the good citizens of the Chorus:

QUESTION: They came out [of the car] and they were blindfolded. What followed next?

ANSWER: What followed next was the killing.

Q: Using what?

A: They used hammers that are used when erecting tents.

Q: What other weapons were there? No guns were there, no pistols?

A: There were no guns there, but I remember that there was an axe. I cannot remember whether it was used.

Q: No sharp instruments?

A: No sharp instruments.

Q: How many people were assigned to one person?

A: Each group would pick one and take him aside…

Q: As an example, what did you yourself do to Mr Sangala to make him die?

A: My boys took Mr Sangala, blindfolded him and made him sit down. I was the one who had the hammer and I hit him at the back of the head where I knew, according to my police training, he would die immediately.

Q: You hit him at the back of the head?

A: Yes.

Q: Using what?

A: I used a hammer.

Q: What else? Did he just collapse?

A: He fell down.

Q: He was already sitting down?

A: He was already sitting down, so after hitting him he fell on the ground and died.

Q: Did he not cry?

A: No, he did not cry.

Q: Because his mouth was gagged?

A: He was not gagged. He was only blindfolded.

Q: Would you say the rest of these people were treated in the same way, sat down, hit at the back and died?

A: I believe the same method was used, but we were doing it at different places…

Q: What conversation went on between you and them [the victims]?

A: When we were in this vehicle, we did not talk to each other. There was no conversation.

Q: They did not ask where you were taking them to?

A: These people did not speak to us.

Q: What about at the scene? Now you are taking Mr Sangala away. He did not say anything?

A: As I said, the only thing he said was, “How are you going to blindfold me with my glasses still on?” So we told him to remove the glasses, and he removed them and put them on the ground, and then we told him to sit down.

Q: Were these people awake on this journey?

A: Yes, they were awake.

Q: Did they not talk to each other?

A: No, they did not talk to each other.

Q: Did they look to you to have been drugged with something? I find it strange that they travelled from here to that place without talking at all.

A: I do not know, but the way I saw them, they were depressed.

Q: Did they look to you that they knew they were going to be killed?

A: It looked as if they already knew why they were there.

It bears mentioning that the case was dismissed by the Supreme Court because, in the words of Dr Banda’s lawyer, Clive Stanbrook, QC, all the evidence was “hearsay upon hearsay.” For all the disconcerting eloquence of the commission’s report, in legal terms it was inconclusive, as the hard evidence to convict the alleged instigators of this crime was lacking.

That is history – brutal, frightening, and haunting the brand of the Malawi Congress Party.

However, almost everyone who was a key leader in MCP at that time is no longer there now. Its President, Dr Lazarus Chakwera, is a clergyman who served at the helm of the Assemblies of God for more than two decades, and only joined MCP long after 1994. The same applies to his shadow cabinet and almost every member of the politburo.

To put this in perspective, Issa Njauju, third in command at the Anti-Corruption Bureau, was brutally murdered when President Peter Mutharika was in charge, and Mutharika’s government has done all it can to make sure that the murder is not investigated thoroughly. Some wonder whether Njauju was murdered at the behest of the DPP politburo.

And on 24 September 2011, university student Robert Chasowa was clobbered to death, his body left spread-eagled outside the classroom blocks of The Polytechnic. Within less than an hour of the body’s discovery, the police ruled that the death was suicide, and went so far as to produce what they claimed to be “suicide notes” – a clear indication that government wanted to cover up the young man’s murder. At the time, DPP was also in charge.

So, it is not as though any of the leading political parties is free of these allegations of murders, which makes judging MCP on events that happened when none of the current office holders was in charge entirely unfair.

This, then, may explain why some Malawians are willing to forget the past and give the new MCP a chance.

At any rate, 25 per cent of the population eligible to vote in the oncoming elections were born from 1990 onwards, in the sunset of the dictatorship or long after it was dead and buried. All they know about the MCP rule between 1964 and 1994 is what they hear or read. They will, therefore, be ready to judge the current MCP team on its own merits, without attaching it to the baggage of yesteryears.

And it’s not only the millennials who are happy to give MCP a chance. Even some who were victims under the dictatorship are willing to move on. Recently, David Chiwanga’s son, Francis Chiwanga, joined MCP. Francis told an MCP rally at Nkhotakota that he joined MCP because of the new leadership of the party in Dr. Lazarus Chakwera. Chiwanga says he will contest on an MCP ticket as an MP in one of the constituencies in Chikwawa in 2019.

But Francis Chiwanga said something else – that he had been attracted to the party by Lower Shire stalwart, former cabinet minister Muhammad Sidik Mia, who was roped into the MCP fold this year. Indeed, the three or so major rallies MCP undertook to parade Mia created great excitement, and – some argue – may have contributed to MCP’s winning of the parliamentary by-election in the Lower Shire.

All this rejuvenation has certainly buoyed MCP, and if the party continues on this trajectory it could win in 2019.

But then it is hard not to notice the over-confidence that is settling in, which, in some cases, is coming across as hubris. MCP’s youth wing – rather than differentiate itself from the way DPP’s cadets conduct themselves – shows the very some concerning conduct. When Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya – who is also Vice President of MCP – ruled that some of the remarks Chakwera made in parliament lacked parliamentary decorum, the MCP youth wing was up in arms attacking him viciously on social media, without any attempt to fully understand why it became necessary for the Speaker to make such a ruling. One wonders: if the youth wing behaves like this before assuming power, how will it be when the party takes over?

Has Simbi Phiri’s Khato ‘state’ captured Chakwera & MCP

But the concern about the MCP youth wing pales when one thinks of the party’s silence in the contract that Lilongwe Water Board awarded to Khato Civils to pump water from Lake Malawi to Lilongwe. There are many questions surrounding the contract. Since MCP has made it its business to hold the government accountable, one would expect the same probity when it comes to the Lake Malawi project. To everyone’s surprise, there is not a word from MCP.

Khato Civils owner, Simbi Phiri, said in an interview with Times Television recently, that he finances both MCP and DPP. Could it be, then, the case of MCP not biting the hand that feeds it?

For those not in the know, the former Attonery-General, Kalekeni Kaphale, asked the following three questions about the contract, questions that have never been satisfactorily answered:

1) In your letter to the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP), you did not contend that the works can only be performed by the six or so contractors that you chose to contact, and you also did not raise issues of the time/cost of considering a large number of bids vis-avis the value of the works. The ODPP may have misapplied the law when it allowed such a high value contract to go by restrictive tendering, in view of your failure to fulfil the requirements of Section 30(3) of the Public Procurement Act.

2) Having considered 3 bids only, two of which were disqualified, I fail to understand why it was felt necessary not to proceed to open the tender to the whole world (through an open tendering process) but instead you proceeded to open the successful bidder’s financial proposal and took it wholesale, without even attempting to negotiate the prices downwards.

3) Please address me on why an Environmental Impact Assessment Report has not been made a condition precedent to the validity of the contract. My concern here arises because under the Environmental (Specification of Project requiring EIA) Notice (made under section 24(1) of the Environment Management Act) Clause 3(c) and (d), such a project shall not be implemented unless an EIA is carried out. By signing the contract and allowing the contractor to mobilise, are you not thereby implementing a project which, arguably, may not be approved under the Environment Management Act, thereby exposing the Board to damages should the contract later be frustrated? Why has not the procurement of the EIA Report been made a condition precedent under Clause 5 of the contract?

A 30 October 2017 report by Bright Theu, writing to the Malawi Law Society, alleges that counsel for Khato Civils, Frank Mbeta, attempted to bribe him. He wrote: “Immediately or some days after joining the proceedings as an interested party, Mr. Frank Mbeta, one of the lawyers representing Khato Civils approached me with a proposal that there was money, I should ‘call my figure’ and compromise or walk away from the case! He stated that he and his client were more concerned if the issue of contravention of the procurement law was made part of the judicial review – the fear being the risk of the contract being cancelled by the court. He asked me not to file the application to amend Form 86A as part of possible settlement of the case. I was perturbed with the temerity of counsel to make this advance. Simply, I declined. I reported this incident to the MLS EXCO. And I filed the application to add the issue of contravention of the Public Procurement Act.”

One would have expected a party that has recently been naming and shaming corrupt companies to take a forceful and unequivocal stand on this matter, considering the fact that the contract is worth $500 million. And yet from MCP, we hear one robotic response, “Bring us the evidence,” the very same response DPP uses to dodge accountability whenever allegations of corruption arise.

One wonders:

1) If the entities named and shamed by the MCP president had given some funding to MCP, would he have had the courage to name and shame them? Would he have demanded investigations, transparency and accountability?
2) Has state capture started even when MCP has not yet taken the reins of power?

Malawians are sick and tired of voting out one set of thieves only to replace it with another. If MCP tackles suspicious government dealings in a selective manner, the people will not see the difference between the rebranded party of Kamuzu and DPP.

The silence on the Lake Malawi matter smacks of hubris, and that hubris can derail MCP’s chances of taking power through the ballot in 2019.

This would be a pity because at no point in the last 20 years has MCP been this strong. But victory is made of many ingredients. Roping in the likes of Mia is one such ingredient, but in itself it is not enough. Demonstrate to us that you are not as corrupt as the party you seek to replace, then all other things shall be added unto you.