Africa-Press – Malawi. Malawi’s Information Minister Gospel Kazako insists that he advised Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) not to travel to Dubai for training because “it is very expensive and difficult to justify” but the country’s communications policing organisation ignored his advice and went ahead as they had decided. On the other hand, MACRA appears to shift the blame on the Minister holding out that they were authorised to take the trip to Dubai.
So, who is lying and who is telling the truth?
An official confidential document from MACRA with Information Minister’s handwritten inscriptions on it appearing to authorise the wastefully extravagant two-week Dubai trip, which blew K46 million of taxpayers money has leaked to the public Saturday after President Chakwera lambasted the board demanding change.
According to the leaked document, which was signed by MACRA Acting Director General, Henry Silika, was seeking clearance and approval for a capacity building for board members and executive management on corporate governance in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from May 31 to June 11 and from June 14 to June 25, 2021 respectively, from Macra’s line minister, veteran broadcast journalist and legendary poet, Gospel Kazako.
Reads in part the leaked letter dated May 19, 2021 and referenced MACRA/145/DG/hs: “Unlike the other past trainings this one has been tailor-made for an ICT regulator and offering insights on trends and developments driving the ICT sector form a corporate governance perspective.”
In the letter, the MACRA says of the options given to them by the minister, they settled for the option of holding the training in Dubai meaning that of the options given by the minister they insisted on going to Dubai.
“However, following the spirit of the communications Act. I would further recommend that ex-officio members be considered as well since they are for all purposes members of the MACRA board and most of the them are part of MACRA board for the first time,” further reads the leaked document.
However, in his handwritten response to the letter, Kazako reprimanded that the option taken by MACRA to go and have the training in Dubai is “very expensive and difficult to justify.”
“Your earlier memo proposed 14 (fourteen) members. That is very expressive and very difficult to justify,” Kazako wrote in blue ink on June 20, 2021, adding: “I suggest 6 (six) board members and the 2 (two) managers. This translates into four people per delegation (One manager, three Board members.”)
Furthermore, Kazako in the footnote and concluding his response advised the MACRA to pay attention on how public resources are utilised. Said Kazako: “You are encouraged to embrace the new culture of diligence.”
Based on Kazako’s responses on the matter, there is nowhere he is approving MACRA’s trip to Dubai as he he clearly pointed out that the option to go to Dubai was very expensive. In the letter, MACRA talked about options given to them they said they settled for the option of going to Dubai, so what were the other option?
investigations reveal that the leaking of document was a ploy for the MACRA board and management to exonerate themselves from wrongdoing and push the blame on the minister after the president had lashed out on them for extravagance and abuse of office.
A credible inside source at MACRA confided in Nyasa Times that after the president chastised the board in his speech at a fibre network launch in Lilongwe, they that felt they have been thrown under the bus.
“At that point, after the president chided the board, everyone was panicking and someone decided to use the letter the minister responded to them so the focus changes from MACRA and be pushed to the minister so the narrative could change and make it look like the minister is the one who messed up everything,” said the source who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals.
The source said following the discourse, it is clear that there were several other correspondences that run between MACRA and the information minister but surprisingly there is only one that they strategically chose to release just to fit into their narrative.
“Perhaps, the question, we must ask is that whoever was leaking that document chose to release one of the many?” queried the source.
The inside source added: “Let us look at at the whole issue with a sober mind. What was the minister going from the trip if he indeed approved the trip? Where is the initial Memo in which MACRA submitted the number of people to travel to Dubai for training and Kazako’s responses on the matter? Why has that document not leaked?”
MACRA Acting Director General Henry Silika could not be available for his side of the story as he did not pick up his phone so is MACRA board Chairperson, Dr. Chakhumbira Stanley Khaira, who is also chairperson of the Chewa Heritage.
MACRA is best known for public resources extravagance and for a long time it has been used as a cash cow and even on the appointment of board members everyone wants to be appointed for MACRA.
“One top MCP gentleman was appointed to be a board member at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) but he refused saying that he wanted to go to MACRA and he indeed was moved to MACRA and his reason is that at MACRA there are more privileges than in other boards and this can be verified. There is a culture of impunity and entitlement at MACRA,” said the source.
He added: “If you try to stop the way they do things at MACRA, you become an enemy and that is what Gospel Kazako became the moment he started questioning the management and the board as to why they want to go to Dubai.”
‘The Gospel Truth’
In an interview Kazako said he was sticking to what he said earlier on that MACRA ignored his advice not to travel to Dubai and he made his position clear that going to the Arab Emirates for training that could be conducted and facilitated locally is expensive because that is the truth of the matter.
“If you have read my comments on the leaked memo, I made it clear that going to Dubai was very expensive and something that cannot be justified. I only made suggestions but I did not approve anything.
“Firstly, let me point out that this behaviour leaking government official documents is unprofessional and childish. There is more that we discussed and on what I advised but I cannot be discussing those matters here. They chose to cherry-pick one document out of the many, said Kazako.
Pressed if he lied to both the president and the country on MACRA mess and that he only said that they ignored his advice to defend himself, Kazako said, there was nothing to defend because what he said was the truth and that he informed the president everything about matter.
Said Kazako:” MACRA and its board are very independent and as a line minister, I don’t make decisions for them neither do give them orders. If needed, I give them my advice and it is up to them to listen. In this case, they informed me that they want to go to Dubai with 14 people for training and I out-rightly told them that is very expensive and unjustifiable and gave them options. As a minister I help them drive the government policy.
“To conduct the training locally with local trainers, or alternatively bring a trainer from elsewhere to come and train them in Malawi than taking 14 people abroad when Malawi’s economy is bleeding, but they ignored all that and insisted on still going to Dubai saying the training is tailor made for ICT and as a compromised I suggested they cut the number to 4 from 14 and someone want to say that I authorised the trip?” wondered Kazako.
Kazako said everyone at MACRA knows his stand on public financial prudence and he promotes the culture of diligence, truth and transparency for public officers.
“Here’s the gospel truth; the truth is like a lion, it doesn’t need any defence because the truth always defend itself. So I will not defend anything I said for it nothing but the truth and it will defend itself,” said Kazako seemingly unfazed.
‘MACRA Board Must Go’
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence in a separate interview on Sunday said there is no need to go around the issue, which is a straightforward matter in as far governance is concerned, MACRA board must be dissolved, all members sacked and appoint new board members.
“I don’t understand why the people who abused public funds and public office should be still in office. They have to go. The president must fire them as a matter of urgency. They have proven to be a rubble that we all wanted to remove.
“As HRDC, we will soon engage the president on the matter. The people of Malawi no longer want people who squander public resources. Malawians want people who have Malawi and her people at heart and not those who want to get rich quicker at the expense of poor Malawians, said Trapence.
Asked what he thinks about the minister’s involvement on the matter, Trapence said from what he has seen on the matter so far, MACRA board have no one to blame saying as a responsible and independent board members they had had a responsibility to ‘think’ in a manner that would not be tantamount to defraud Malawians of their hard-earned taxpayers money.
“Looking at the minister’s responses to the memo, I think he tried to advise them well and I believe that MACRA board members are intelligent enough to know what is right and what is wrong. In my opinion MACRA and its board members are all insensitive to our fragile economy.
“That said, I think next time, the minister should be more vigilant and be able to call out what is bad as bad. He needs to be firm. These are people who are used to pilfering public funds, therefore, there is no need to babysit them.”
Human Rights and Social Justice Activist and private lawyer, John-Gift Mwakhwawa said: “It is time we all take responsibilities to move Malawi forward. We must always think about Malawi first before we think about ourselves. I believe that by now, everyone who is in a public office knows that we no longer the same people who can sit and watch a few individuals dragging our country to where we were. Added Mwakhwawa: “Times have changed and so must our thinking.”
understands that five board members and two management officers travelled to Dubai for training on corporate governance and regulatory masterclass on Information Communication and Technology (ICT) at Pinnacle Training Institute.
It is established that every MACRA board member is entitled an external travel allowance of US$480 per day, which is equivalent to K386,400 at the exchange rate of K805 to a US dollar – and this means that for the two week period, each board member pocketed not less than K5,409,600.
In total, all the five board members got not less than K27, 048,000 Expenditure for air tickets for all the five was about K7.5 million as each air ticket cost about K1.5 million and on calculations, it shows that MACRA spent about K34,548,000 for the board’s allowances and air tickets.
established that in total, the institution spent around K46,282,250. MACRA Communications Officer, Clara Ngwira, confirmed and justified the board training in Dubai, which she said was already budgeted for in MACRA’s 2020/2021 annual budget.