BLNTYRE-(MaraviPost)—Former President Peter Mutharika has contradicted with former presidential press secretary, Mgeme Kalirani, on cement importation saga that has seen some individuals connected to the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) including Mutharika’s bodyguard Norman Chisale spending nights in police cells.
Mutharika was initially reported to have imported about 400 000 bags of cement worth K3.2 billion duty-free from Zambia and Zimbabwe between 2018 and 2019 despite promoting Buy Malawian campaign and the local industry having production capacity.
While State House and Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) had justified the transaction as “within the law”, private practice lawyer John-Gift Mwakhwawa said the volume involved raised doubts on the “personal use” provision in the Presidents (Salaries and Benefits) Act and had called for an investigation.
Written correspondence between State Residences and MRA indicate that through director general of State Residences Peter Mukhito, Mutharika asked the public tax collector to facilitate clearance of the cement duty-free.
Presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani on June 16 told the local media that the President was within the law, saying: “The goods were imported under the Presidents (Salaries and Benefits) Act chapter 2 sub-section 2 part 7 of the schedule. Under this law, the President is entitled to import goods for personal use duty-free.”
But as the cement importation saga, which is now pegged at K5 billion, continues to attract public interest, ex-President Mutharika on Friday spoke on the matter saying, he neither bought nor instructed anyone to buy or import the cement in question.
“Accordingly, the former President did not, as he could not, request the Malawi Revenue Authority to invoke any of his privileges to clear the alleged consignment of cement duty- free,” Mutharika said in statement released by his personal secretary Linda Salanjira.
“Further, the former President was never at any point undertaking any construction project (s) requiring such substantial volumes of cement. In any event, the former President does not operate any business to sell cement on retail or wholesale.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the former President did not have any dealings with the alleged cement traders either personally or through a third party,” reads the statement futher.
Mutharika’s reaction is in sharp contrast with what Kalirani told the nation.
However, Mutharika’s failure to immediately correct Kalirani at that time is also worth debating. One would conclude that Mutharika could not distance himself from the scandal if DPP was still in power.
Meanwhile, Malawi Police have arrested the controversial Deputy Commissioner General of Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), Roza Mbilizi, Mutharika’s bodyguard Norman Chisale and Indian businessperson Shafee Ahmed Chunara in connection with the importation of duty free cement and other illegal deals at the tax collecting body.