Questionable Appointment of Lt General Paul Valentino Phiri as New Malawi Army Commander Under Investigation

Paul Valentino Phiri is the new Army Commander for the Malawi Defence Force

President Lazarus Chakwera has made it a priority to address corruption in Malawi. Undetected and unchecked corruption can severely damage public trust in government and waste valuable resources.

Recently, President Chakwera appointed Lt General Paul Valentino Phiri as the new Malawi Army Commander, succeeding Vincent Nundwe. This change in leadership within the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) is expected to bring positive developments, and it is crucial for the government to demonstrate a commitment to a strong and capable military.

The Investigation

However, I find this particular appointment deeply problematic and concerning. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of Malawi launched an investigation in June 2023 into financial misconduct allegations involving Lieutenant General Paul V. Phiri, the Deputy Defence Commander. The ACB is probing suspicions of misusing K38.5 million of taxpayers’ money, raising concerns about the potential abuse of public funds by a high-ranking military officer in Malawi.

The Allegations

The allegations suggest that Phiri influenced the payment of K38.2 million in April 2021, coercing an accountant to authorize the payment by including his name and that of another officer in the list of overseas training allowance arrears for MDF officers and staff. The funds were allocated for building maintenance (K10.2 million) and foreign training (K22.8 million), with an additional K5.4 million allegedly allocated to another officer. The payment was made using a Malawi Government – Malawi Defence Force payment voucher number: 101PV5027437 and cheque number 379028 issued to the National Bank Capital City branch.

Further allegations suggest that Phiri requested the payment of all outstanding arrears by claiming that his voucher was issued against an updated list of all outstanding overseas allowances. However, the payment had no basis, as Phiri allegedly did not have any outstanding arrears to claim. The Malawi Defence Force had already settled the arrears during Mark Chiziko’s tenure as MDF Commander.

The source of these allegations also claims that Phiri added names of officers who had already received their allowance to inflate the figures for himself. While 17 MDF officers were eligible for overseas training, Phiri allegedly included an additional name, bringing the total to 19.

The Suggestion

Given the ongoing corruption investigation, I believe President Chakwera should reconsider appointing Lt General Paul Valentino Phiri as Army Commander. Appointing someone under investigation for corruption sends the wrong message and may appear to obstruct the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s investigation. The President should uphold the office of the Anti-Corruption Director and demonstrate commitment to fighting corruption in Malawi.

The Conclusion

President Chakwera’s past decisions regarding the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) appointments have been questionable. The appointment of a retired former Army Commander, Vincent Nundwe, in 2020, instead of the Deputy Defence Commander at the time, was one such mistake. At that time, there were no allegations against Lt General Paul Valentino Phiri, who had a clean record.

The second questionable decision is appointing Lt General Paul Valentino Phiri as the new Army Commander while he is under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. This appointment may hinder the public’s perception of President Chakwera’s commitment to fighting corruption in the country. It is essential for the President to make informed and transparent decisions to uphold his image and the nation’s trust.