It’s payback time, activists warn Malawi’s first lady

Malawian civil society organisations have mounted a campaign asking first lady Gertrude Mutharika to refund about $22?000 that her Beautify Malawi (Beam) trust received from government ministries and the National Aids Commission for its official launch.

The organisations say they will embark on nationwide demonstrations if Mutharika fails to return the money.

The president’s wife wrote to each of the 20 government ministers and their deputies, asking them to contribute $600 towards the September launch of her nonprofit trust, which is aimed at achieving a cleaner and healthier Malawi.

Three ministers, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed separately to the Mail & Guardian that they used their monthly government allocations to meet the first lady’s request.

“No minister could have paid that out of their pockets. That’s a lot of money here,” one minister said.

The ministers said that, after they received letters from Mutharika, there were several follow-ups from the trust’s staff – and it became difficult for them to decline the request.

“It is like we were ordered at gunpoint to release the money to support her launch,” the source said.

The Beam trust does not carry out HIV and Aids work, yet it received $10?000 from the Aids commission after Mutharika wrote to it. The body funds organisations that carry out HIV- and Aids-related work, but must first submit a detailed project proposal, which Mutharika did not do.

‘Beam won’t refund’ – First Lady
But the first lady has put her foot down, saying her Beam trust will not refund the money and that such calls are politically motivated.

Mutharika also maintains that there is nothing wrong with the way she solicited the money, despite using state apparatus to do so.

Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa said on Monday that the Malawian government cannot refund money that independent organisations have been given for their own use.

Beam vice-chairperson Dr Collins Magalasi said: “There was nothing irregular in the manner in which the said funds were sourced.”

He said the trust had delivered standard letters to more than 200 companies and organisations, introducing it to prospective stakeholders and partners.

“The said letters called for goodwill and support from the recipients, in addition to any financial support [they could offer] towards the launch activities.

“In the specific case of [the Aids commission], they decided to participate in the launch through the purchase of a [$6?000] dinner table for their staff and stakeholders, as well as through buying space in the dinner venue to the tune of [$4?000] for the advertisement of HIV and Aids messages through roll-up banners,” he said.

Civil society bodies have given Mutharika a seven-day ultimatum, which expires this week, to pay back the money, saying they will demonstrate should she fail to do so.

But Beam board member Mavuto Bamusi said: “They [the nongovernmental organisations] are just jealous of the first lady’s trust. They can go ahead with demonstrations. After all, it is their constitutional right.”

Malawi Health Equity Network director Martha Kwataine said it was unfair for Mutharika to misuse money meant for Aids care, putting the lives of Malawians at risk to promote her trust.

“If she fails to refund the money then she has swallowed a bitter pill, because we will not stop our calls,” Kwataine said.

Locals have also written to international group the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which funds the Aids commission, asking it to close the aid taps until a forensic audit is done.

For its part, the Aids commission has defended the donation. “[We] did not grant any money … but rather participated in the Beautify Malawi launch activities,” acting executive director Davie Kalomba said.

This is not the first time the Aids commission has been embroiled in a controversy regarding funds. In February 2014 it had to refund $4?million to the Global Fund, which had been misappropriated through ineligible transactions and inadequate supporting documentation.

Collins Mtika
Collins Mtika works from Mzuzu, Malawi. COLLINS MTIKA is a Malawian investigative journalist. He is the Malawi Correspondent for RSA based pan African weekly newspaper called the African Independent. Collins Mtika has over 110 followers on Twitter.

Mabuza’s ‘distant relative’ scored big

Eskom’s woes are often because of boiler problems at its power plants. R50-billion has been set aside to fix them, but some of the contracts are going to questionable entities

ANC faction gunning for Gordhan

The ambush will take place at an NEC meeting about Eskom. But the real target is Cyril Ramaphosa

Despite tweet, Zuma keeps silent about providing his taxpayer information

The Public Protector has still not received confirmation from former president Jacob Zuma that she may access his tax records —...

Ahead of WEF, Mboweni will have to assure investors that...

The finance minister says despite the difficult fiscal environment, structural reforms are under way to put SA on a new growth path

Press Releases

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Is your tertiary institution is accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Is your tertiary institution accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

VUT chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, dies

The university conferred the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa on Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi for his outstanding leadership contributions to maths and science education development.

Innovate4AMR now in second year

SA's Team pill-Alert aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance by implementing their strategic intervention that ensures patients comply with treatment.

Medical students present solution in Geneva

Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman were selected to present their strategic intervention to tackle antimicrobial resistance to an international panel of experts.