If you are asked to mention development projects that were initiated by President Bingu Wa Mutharika (late), you can face the brutality of the marker if Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) is listed at the bottom. Yes, he gained worldwide fame with the farm input subsidy that ended Malawi’s chronic food crises but MUST is incontrovertibly part of his national and international memory.
The University was established by an Act of Parliament Number 31 of 2012 with the aim of promoting the development, adaptation, transfer and application of science, technology and innovation for macro- and micro-economic development of Malawi.
Initially, it is alleged, the science and technology university was supposed to belong to Bineth Trust, which was jointly owned by Mutharika and his first wife, the late Ethel. This conspiracy cannot be entirely discarded as a mere imagination considering that Bingu was more of ‘Kamuzuism’. Definitely, he was stimulated by Kamuzu Academy in Kasungu at Ntunthama. Anyway, that’s a topic for another day. What we know is that MUST is a public entity which is accommodating rare germs across the country.
The issue is about Yeremiah Chihana’s ‘revelations’ during an interview with Times TV on Wednesday. It was a lengthy interview but the message that has attracted the discerning social media cappers is that MUST belongs to the Mutharika family. Chihana, who is professional valuer, says that the University was built on a private land owned by the Bineth Trust, whose current administrators are Presidaent Peter Mutharika and Duwa, the late Bingu’s daughter.
Chihana has ignited unnecessary debate among the so-called social media activists, who seize any opportunity that comes to throw more mud and dirty at Peter Mutharika. The attention given to the matter is terribly hilarious considering that Chihana just stated the obvious which is in public domain. It is indeed true that the University was built on a private land but the institution belongs to government of Malawi and ownership transfer process of the land is underway, if not complete.
As Allan Ntata puts it, the legitimate owner of MUST is Malawi Government.
“I personally conducted the legal annexing and conveyancing where late Bingu annexed part of Ndata Farm and donated it to the government of Malawi as the proposed site for the construction of MUST. MUST has a Ministry of Education Charter just like all other Government Universities and the land upon which it stands was donated to the government.
“I am disappointed that Chihana, whom I respect, can be spreading such lies. Late Bingu wasn’t perfect and did many things wrong alright, but that doesn’t justify piling lies on his shoulders using just rumours and innuendo. These kinds of claims and allegations should always be supported by facts and evidence,” Ntata wrote on his facebook page in reaction to Chihana.
For starters, Ntata was Bingu’s legal advisor, and certainly, some may question the merit of his argument based on a political frame of reference. But Ntata is very right on this, though he is an interested party.
Officially launching construction of world-class University, Mutharika said he was pleased to donate the more than 263 hectares of land for its establishment. China’s Export and Import bank had provided a US$80 million loan facility, with a repayment period of 20 years and a grace period of five years, to the Malawi government (not Bingu) for its construction.
“MUST is located in Ndata Estate that belongs to me. I have donated to the Malawi nation over 650 acres of land to be the campus for this university. We shall all benefit from this. It does not belong to me,” he said.
In an interview with Maravi Post on Thursday morning, a senior officer in the land department said “It is indeed true that Bingu donated the land but the title deeds are still under Bineth Trust name. However, the transfer of ownership started soon after construction of the University commenced. By now this could have been a forgotten matter but the process met some challenges as some people were claiming ownership of the land.
“The Mutharika family has never at any point showed resistance to have the land ownership transferred from privately-owned to public. It is, therefore, misrepresentation of facts to say the institution belongs to the Mutharika family. I think Mr. Chihana was somehow political,” he said.
Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development during the Bingu’s regime, Henry Phoya, is on record to have confirmed that the process of changing the status of the land for the university was on track.
“The process is not yet finalised. We are still working on that. The university was being constructed on private land but, as government, we are working on that so that the university should not be on private land. We are in the process of rectifying that anomaly,” said Phoya.
He said government was working on the issue with speed as the matter was of national interest. But he did not commit himself as to when that process would end. He said there was no impediment to the process.
When Joyce Banda took over power following the death of Wa Mutharika, it was reported that her government was facing serious challenges to complete the transfer of the piece of land on which the State-owned University was built because of existing ownership wrangle.
“The land is still in their (Bineth Trust) hands because there is an ownership dispute. It seems the ‘people’ who owned the farm before the former president bought it are not ready to give it to the public.
“You know the farm has been there for a long time before it was bought by the Mutharikas. Now, government has been trying to formalise change of ownership of the land where the university is, but there is resistance from those people although they are not clear on what they want,” said a government official during Joyce Banda’s reign.
The then Government spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu, who was also Minister of Information and Civic Education, also told the public that the process of transferring the land from private to public was almost complete.
Duwa Mutharika-Mubaira, one of the late Mutharika’s daughters, told media that the family was not aware of any land wrangle involving Ndata Farm or part of it and that to the best of her knowledge, government had not contacted the family that it was facing hurdles to transfer ownership of the land.
Now, it is clear that the Mutharika family has not, at any point, frustrated efforts of changing the ownership of the land. We can, therefore, find other issues to picket the president but this MUST land issue is not adding up. Or is it an attempt to rob him of his legacy?