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Malawi authorities must smoke out more Mapetos, Batatawalas

Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) cajoling the Police to arrest Mapeto was heroic

By Mulotwa Mulotwa

This week has been interesting. People that have transcended regimes in terms of sustaining warm ties with the politburo of ruling bureaucracies were called to account. It is unusual in this country to effect such an arrest and given the run-rate displayed so far, then ending excesses and trickery by Businessmen is nigh.

Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) cajoling the Police to arrest Mapeto was heroic, even intrepid was Attorney-General’s [AG] decision to name and shame Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets [PPDA], Fiscal Police and Immigration officials for massaging suspected 3 irregular business transactions hovering around one Batatawala.

Mapeto and Batatawala have been serially loved by all regimes. Like Nelly Furtado’s song, surely the duo are wondering why do all good things come to an end?

The Latif family or Mapeto as they are known, who many decades ago bought Mapeto David Whitehead and Sons at only K70 million, facing the wrath of the once Government company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the time, Evelyn Mwapasa who resisted the deal, claiming the price was for the song but this CEO was left to hang, this week the law came before their faces asking for justice.

Now for tax evasion

MRA via Police arrested Faizal Latif, Director and owner of Mapeto David Whitehead and Sons on various tax law contraventions amounting to MK10.8 billion.

MK10.8 billion can build two modern district hospitals equivalent to the stature of Nkhata- Bay or Chiradzulu district hospitals or serve all Cancer patients in the country who rush to neighbouring Zambia or Tanzania for treatment and not to mention India.

Yes, presumption of innocence means every person accused of any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty and Latif and his fellow accused people remain innocent. What is critical at this point in time is the message that no one is safe and above the law, whether guilty or innocent, if suspected of anything amiss they will be called to explain. That is how a justly society operates.

It is recorded that the Mapeto team are suspected of various offences committed contrary to the provisions of the Customs and Excise Act, Taxation Act and Value Added Tax Act thereby defrauding the Malawi Government of revenue amounting to MK10.8 billion.

The arrest was not in a vacuum, it followed a six weeks long examination of documents which were seized at the business premises of Mapeto (DWSM) Limited. This efficiency by MRA is unprecedented and the ‘nimble-wittedness’ shown thus far, must be extended to other Mapetos and Batatawalas around the country. It should not end with the two.

New broom at ACB Martha Chizuma, all hopes are on you – you carry the burden of ridding this country of graft, Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP], Steve Kayuni let’s keep the files moving like they are doing since you took office, Vincent Chipeta at Financial Intelligence Authority [FIA] keep sniffing and IG Kainja play your part.

One day, Malawi will be a better place. Judiciary you are the envy of the region and recently won an award from Chatham House, keep those trophies coming to the country for your efficacy.

There is nothing anyone holds against the community the Latifs and Batatawalas belong to, but it is high time this community played it fair with Malawians. It has been long.

Over and above, tax evasion allegations. The issue of land ownership remains a pain point where almost all prime and critical land is in the hands of the community. This must receive attention as to how such land was acquired and whether the law was followed to the letter.

Imagine the Museums of Malawi realising land they all along thought was theirs in Blantyre all of a sudden was titled to one Batatawala and in an effort to get what they thought belonged to them ended up a loss in Court. Now Batatawala wants MK400 million as compensation. These people have no pity for a poor tax payer. This is injuring the same taxpayers who sponsor huge deals that Batatawala has been getting from the Government. Those billions don’t come in some ship named in a feminine way or Lady whatever from USA or UK, it is poor Malawians who are taxed to fund the deals, which come out in the form of public tenders or SECRET tenders when the transactions are hidden under security concerns.

This country. How does one explain AG Chikosa Silungwe being suspicious of ACB, PPDA and Fiscal Police over the handling of the MK12.3 billion Karim Batawalala deal with immigration? It means the Head of Malawi had no choice but to call the devil by his name.

The MK12.3 billion was not approved by the Secretary to the Treasury. Officers at Immigration committed huge sums of money on behalf of the Government not appropriated by the National Assembly. PPDA masqueraded as an authority giving no objection for 3 separate contracts but bearing one contract number and entered into on a single day. All these make the entire country suspicious of the community while it must be recognised that Batatawala and Mapeto remain innocent.

Batatawala was given 3 contracts / letters to supply uniforms with no provided quantity, AG wonders. Silungwe finds these transactions as chary as wary, and laments that previously he asked ACB to investigate to no avail. ACB instead engaged Fiscal Police who did a shoddy job. This is not a small matter, this administration must see to it that these matters are concluded. No citizen wants to pay tax into a leaking jar.

The Batatawala and Mapeto revelations are not the only issues surrounding these Business people. There are a litany of allegations and amidst many players on the market one is compelled to ask what is so special with this duo. It might seem the country is at the mercy of this community.

Last year Latif was summoned by ACB for questioning over his role in the MK300 million cheque made to Mapeto involving the former ruling party; Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Issue was branded cloth and elections. Matter is in court.

Mapeto and Batatawalala habitually have issues. Now they have an opportunity to prove themselves innocent. Opportunity knocks but once and here it is for the duo.

It is common knowledge that the presumption of innocence is premised on the legal burden of proof being on the prosecution. It is everyone’s hope that the FIA, PPDA, Fiscal Police and ACB must open their eyes and smoke out other Mapetos and Batatawalas in the country.

Just to go through all public tenders won in the last 15 years as a special project, will make interesting findings or conduct special searches at their offices – grab documents, no doubt billions have gone down the drain via tax evasion. There is more than meets the eye.

Conversely, If the prosecution does not prove the charges true, then the persons involved should be acquitted without delay. But one way or the other let suspected wrong doers account. Actually it is good for them.

Unrelated to the Mapetos and Batatawalas now, this business of forcing Politicians to “return the favour” rendered during general elections should now have an expiry date if the country is to make progress.The inaction on wrong doers is nerve-racking.

Mortgaging a country just because one received spoons for distribution to voters should not be entertained because in exchange Businesspeople break the law and expect protection much to the chagrin of suffering citizens.

Godot, smoke out more Mapetos, Batatawalas. There are many out there.

We waited for long! Thanks.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author not necessarily of The Maravi Post or Editor

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