Malawi investigating former diplomats for allegedly selling state properties

By Charles Pensulo in Malawi - RFI
Malawi  CC BY-SA 4.0
MAY 24, 2022 LISTEN
© CC BY-SA 4.0

The Malawi government is investigating some of its former diplomats who served the country's embassies in Namibia, South Africa and the United Kingdom for allegedly selling state assets ,including houses, and failing to account for the proceeds of the sales.

The country's Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda said some of the transactions date back to the years when the United Democratic Front (UDF) was in office.

Houses sold
UDF was led by president Bakili Muluzi who ruled the landlocked southern central African country from 1994-2004.

The investigation follows audits, including the most recent one, which revealed that properties that belong to the Malawi government at the Johannesburg Consulate in South Africa have no ownership papers, according to The Nation Newspaper which first reported of the investigation.

“These assets that were disposed of include houses and I know these properties. Embassy houses were sold without following laid-down disposal of public assets procedures. Worse still, the money cannot be accounted for,” Nyirenda is quoted as having said.

In an interview with RFI, the attorney Nyirenda estimated that over 20 state houses were sold.

“ I am also trying to find out how this happened. But what I know is that those assets were sold without following proper procedures,” he said, adding that he has also received 'new information' about the same situation in Kenya and Canada embassies.

“When you're making such decisions, it has to be in the best interest of the country. I am not an economist but they can tell you that certain things don't make economic sense…. It means you don't have a house and you're renting and that means you're spending on forex. It's something that doesn't make any economic sense at all. And then you find that these were sold for selfish interests,” he said.

Stolen assets
Nyirenda said the move is part of the move by the government to recover stolen assets both in Malawi and abroad and that he is working with the director of public prosecutions on the matter.

“The cases are big if you judge by the economic value and in terms of complexity,” Nyirenda said when asked about the extent of assets to be recovered. “On the timelines, we've had so many files but it will also depend on the courts, how they give us dates and the like. But [from our side] it's a matter of months, maybe like December.”

Political scientist Victor Chipofya Jr described the revelation as unfortunate not least because the property belongs to the Malawians and ought to be protected by the constitution and laws that govern Malawi.

“The unfortunate part is that most of our leaders take the law into their own hands whereby once they are in power they no longer look at these properties as Malawians' but their own. It's lawlessness and is anarchism. As long as this is going to continue, the country cannot move forward. The reason why is continuing is because none has been brought to book. Even the leaders we have now continue this practice of lawlessness,” he said.

Chipofya would not commit as to whether the investigation is likely to  be successful or not saying the office of the attorney general, which is appointed by the president, is not independent 

“This is something that we have always talked about. The office needs to be independent. What happens if the people practicing this malpractice are connected to the presidency. Is the attorney general going to pin it down on them as well?

"For me, I trust the office of the but the way the bearer is appointed, I will quickly question his autonomous mindset and how independent he will be,” he said.