A few days ago, well – last week to be sure, the acclaimed Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) published yet another article on the Sattar-Malawi state capture shenanigans which have sent folks spinning on their heads – butts up, spewing all manner of impulsive vitriol from the deep depths of their rudimentary intellects, often overwhelmed by their own emotional excitement at the hearing of “corruption”, or as now is trendy, just the mention of “he is mentioned”. Lacking sophistry and basic analytical skills, so-called social media influencers and self-styled pundits have been woofing and howling like rabid dogs.
In the article, President Lazarus Chakwera’s letter approving some deals in the Malawi Army was found with Zuneth Sattar who is ‘now’ a ‘person of interest’ following accusations that he gave gifts to politically exposed people to be given lucrative government contracts.
To consummate the rhapsody of half-informed public brouhaha, the President himself, seeking to score exactly cheap political mileage at the reputational expense of his opponents, heroically appeared on state TV to announce several opportunistic decisions calculated to distance himself and his government from these modern social media convicts of the Sattar-monkeyshines. And this he did, admittedly without sight of any evidence.
The phrases ‘he is mentioned’ and ‘investigations have concluded that so and so is involved in corruption’ written in a decoy report by ACB in response to his illegal demand for it, coupled with political bravado that is characteristic of President Chakwera were enough to jolt the usually indecisive lethargic President into decision mode. The sad thing is that those who lack analytical capacities, who are the majority, are led into believing the façade of things that is peddled to keep them busy yammering on ad infinitum as corruption keeps screwing the nation for good measure.
But the truth is known to display annoying tendencies. It has the penchant for popping up without notice at the most inconvenient of moments, forcing those it confronts to be in denial, and ACB to volunteer nude subliminal prevarications.
So, when PIJ reported that Chakwera is ‘mentioned’ in dealings with Sattar, the wannabes and self-appointed praise singers were activated into defence mode propagating a litany of strawman narratives to explain away President Chakwera’s involvement which has been smelling from a distance for those who care to sniff enough.
A raging rumor that’s refusing to be relegated has it that President Chakwera received a Lexus as a gift from Sattar and he gladly embraced it and retains it to date, no questions asked; that his wife once travelled on a plane chattered by Sattar – only the gods know what their antecedent relationship is; that there are financial transactions from Sattar to offshore accounts held by President Chakwera and his cabal. These may remain rumours for the time being, but only so far as those with the evidence have decided to keep it from the masses, to perpetuate the saintly persona of President Chakwera.
Indeed, in one of his gratuitous speeches written for him to act out on state TV as he always does, he admitted benefitting unknowingly without being forthright to Malawians about what benefit he received, from who, when and how. Despite all of this, the bitter pill that impressionable handclappers are unprepared to accept is that President Chakwera could possibly feature anywhere in the Sattar dealings.
So, as if to call his bluff, while he gallantly proclaimed that no member of his cabinet is involved according to the decoy report calculatedly prepared and filed by ACB, the truth has popped up yet again, this time around closer to President Chakwera. The Secretary General of the party which sponsored him into presidency and a member of his cabinet, Eisenhower Mkaka is up for scandal with straightforward evidence of ‘benefit from Sattar’ the trendy tagline: a used Mercedes Benz S-Class Chassis No. WDD2221322A338705 which he had earlier claimed to have personally bought from proceeds of his business and compensation for his unfair termination of employment with the then First Merchant Bank.
Eyes had rolled across the nation over this cheap explanation of how he got the motor vehicle. The truth which has come to light now is that the motor vehicle was shipped to him by Sattar. For a moment though, merely shipping the car for the embattled Minister does not in and of itself suggest wrongdoing. He might have bought the motor vehicle from or through Sattar fair and clean.
But this is a fact which can easily be verified by simply asking Mr. Lactogen to produce evidence of his payment for the motor vehicle – some bank transaction which must inevitable be there given the amount of forex involved. That should not cost a serious ACB so much time and resources really. But now that the mosquito has landed on the wrong part of the body, saintly President Chakwera is playing his boring indecision prank on what to do with a Minister linked to ‘benefitting from Sattar’.
But let’s leave Mkaka aside, in this exclusive piece, we seek to debunk the ignorant belief prevailing among the Chakwera-fanatic handclappers by pointing the reader to information that undoubtedly places President Chakwera in the thick-thick of things-Sattar. And we do so with evidence and invite the reader to muse along.
To recap, since the exposure of the ‘cashgate’ of Joyce Banda era from which “13 files” have remained formally elusive to date, the reader will recall that in recent past the Sattar state capture scandal started with his arrest in the United Kingdom primarily over three contracts for the supply of Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), Food rations and water cannon trucks for the Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defence Force.
The inquiry over these has opened a pandora box of other fraudulent procurements across regimes in Malawi – a fact which the Baker Tilly Audit Report had exposed enough for action. Instead, President Chakwera thought of simply finding his own place within the syndicate to benefit by perpetuating the incestuous procurements.
President Chakwera approved procurement of armoured water cannon trucks and anti-riot equipment on dubious reasons
The procurement of water cannon trucks and riot-equipment by the MDF commenced during the DPP regime in about April 2020. By this time, MDF had been repeatedly deployed locally to assist with managing demonstrations which a politically compromised Malawi Police Service had dismally failed to handle. By this time, the Supreme Court of Appeal had yet to render its judgment on the appeal challenging the nullification of the May 2019 Presidential election.
It was anticipated that there would be further widespread demonstrations upon judgment being rendered and subsequently during the possible fresh presidential election which had already been ordered by the High Court on 3rd February 2020.
So, on 24 April 2020 the MDF Internal Procurement and Disposal Committee (IPDC) then chaired by Lt. Brig. Mtachi approved procurement of anti-riot equipment at the costs of US$28,650,500.00 to be supplied by Crimson Trading LLC which is now known to belong to one Rafiq Ebrahim, Sattar’s closest business partner and proxy. The MDF IPDC also approved procurement of 6 water cannon trucks at the costs of US$10,524,000.00 to be supplied by Malachite FZE, belonging to Sattar. For both procurements, the MDF IPDC opted for single source method, although it was possible to use restricted tender procurement given that the procurements were national security sensitive as designated under S.37(2) of the PPDA Act, 2017. The need for these procurements was presented to the MDF IPDC by Brig. Blaise G. Saenda who was the Chief of Military Operations at the time.
Four days later on 28 April 2020, still during DPP, MDF requested the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) for permission to proceed with the procurements using single source method. By law, PPDA is supposed to approve any method of procurement that is not by competitive open tendering. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) also has a statutory mandate to vet procurements.
In respect of the MDF procurement of riot equipment and armoured water cannon trucks, ACB withheld permission for a number of reasons. The ACB was not convinced that single sourcing would achieve value for money, and suggested that restricted tender could equally safeguard the sensitivity of the procurement while ensuring value for money. Also, Crimson Trading LLC and Malachite FZE being both Dubai based companies, ACB was weary that the beneficial owners would be the same people or cronies. This as we now know is true of Crimson Trading LLC which on paper is owned by Ebrahim, Sattar’s close associate. Sattar himself owns Malachite FZE.
PPDA also withheld permission for the procurements. MDF launched a persistent justifications campaign for the preferred method of procurement and supplied some of the information requested by PPDA and ACB. The short of this procurement is that the contract for procurement of anti-riot equipment at US$28,650,500.00 and armoured water cannon trucks at US$10,524,000.00 were approved by ACB on 16 July 2020 and by PPDA on 28th September 2020.
Notably, at the time of final approvals in September 2020, the President of this Republic, who was and is the Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Defence is none other than the saintly Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera. It is unimaginable that President Chakwera was not briefed about this procurement initiated during the time of his embattled predecessor.
When PIJ reported that Sattar was found with Chakwera’s letter dated 30 September 2020 approving procurement of anti-riot equipment, the letter was in respect of this procurement initiated by his predecessors but inherited and approved by him.
Chakwera should not be heard for one moment that he was not aware of the history of Malachite FZE and Sattar from the 13 files from the Cashgate era of Joyce Banda. If he was not aware or did not ask the tough questions about this procurement, then he is grossly incompetent at the job – a charge no man in their right senses should readily peddle against any sitting President who gets briefs of all manner of things.
Notably, the prospect of widespread protests anticipated in respect of the Supreme Court of Appeal decision on the presidential election appeal and the fresh presidential election then slated for June 2020 were no longer justifications for the procurement and the urgency parroted in April 2020 when the procurement was initiated. Out of the many priorities for the country, President Chakwera thought anti-riot equipment and armoured water cannon trucks were still a priority and of urgency in September 2020 when the country had well reverted to its usual tranquility.
For the sake of argument, one may say that President Chakwera’s approval of the contracts for procurement of anti-riot equipment and armoured water cannon trucks was innocent. But let us test this conjecture against another procurement, yet again involving Sattar’s Malachite FZE and with President Chakwera in the thick of it all.
Chakwera and dubious procurement of APCs from Sattar’s Malachite FZE
On 7th April 2021, as Chakwera was just about 2 months to clock one year in office, MDF yet again originated another request to PPDA for permission to procure 32 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) for use in the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – what a priority! The specifications of these APCs are left out because of security sensitivity.
The request was contained in a letter dated 7th April 2021 and signed by Brig. Gen. Kalino. Of note, the letter records that the Defence Council had authorized procurement of APCs at a meeting held on 16 October 2020. Chakwera was already President and Minister of Defence by this time. This is important because the Minister of Defence is the Chairman of the Defence Council in terms of S.10(2)(a) of the Defence Force Act Cap 12:01 of the Laws of Malawi. President Chakwera must therefore have chaired the meeting of the Defence Council which authorized procurement of APCs for use in DRC.
Granted that the Minister of Defence may delegate Chairmanship to any person nominated for that purpose in his absence, it would be remiss that the President was not briefed subsequently of the outcome of the meeting by his nominee. The short of it is that President Chakwera was part of the decision to procure APCs right from the outset.
If any doubt would be entertained concerning President Chakwera’s involvement as Chairman of the Defence Council, the letter of 7th April 2021 puts it beyond peradventure by reporting that upon MDF’s request, the Commander-in-Chief of the MDF had authorized the procurement of 32 APCs at a cost of US$18,969,600.00 from International Armoured Group (IAG) through Malachite FZE belonging to Sattar. For the avoidance of doubt, the Commander-in-Chief of MDF is the President, who at this time is your saintly Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera.
Of curiosity, by 7th April 2021, and definitely any time after 16 October 2021, the MDF IPDC whose mandate is to approve procurements had never sat to consider a request for such procurement. Yet the Commander-in-Chief had already authorized the procurement complete with the suppliers and the price of US$18,969,600.00 on the back of deprived Malawians, and all for use in peace keeping mission in DRC!
Did the Commander-in-Chief ask the usual tough questions about the regularity of it all when he must not yet have received any report that MDF IPDC had approved the procurement? Where and how did he get the information about the supplier and the pricing for the procurement? Any prior conversations with Sattar staging the procurement perhaps? In any event, Malachite FZE was merely an agent, a dobadoba in the procurement. IAG was right there in United Arab Emirates, and since the procurement was by single sourcing, MDF could have directly engaged IAG for the procurement.
But Malachite FZE of Sattar was preferred, and authorized by the President acting as Commander-in-Chief even before the MDF IPDC had considered and approved the procurement, the method, the supplier and the price!
If anyone doubt the irregularity of the above steps, actually when MDF sought permission to proceed by single sourcing, PPDA withheld permission, raising a number of concerns in its letter of 13 April 2021. Notably:
- There was no justification for single sourcing only, when restricted tender could be used to safeguard security sensitivity of the procurement while at the same time obtain competitive pricing on the market since there are numerous suppliers of similar APCs on the international market.
- There were no MDF IPDC minutes approving use of single sourcing method.
For naysayers, the responsibility of approving the method of each procurement is placed on the IPDC in terms of S.26(2)(b) of the PPDA Act. In this case, the MDF IPDC had to approve single sourcing before permission could be sought from PPDA. But as will be shown below, the MDF IPDC had not even met to consider the procurement by 7th April 2021 when a request for permission was raised to PPDA following President Chakwera’s ‘authorization’. Value for money was unlikely to be realized because of the involvement of an agent, when the procurement could be done directly with the manufacturer, IAG in this case.
- There was no bid or quotation from the Malachite FZE, despite the price having already been indicated as US$18,969,600.00.
In the absence of a bid or quotation, how did President ‘authorize’ the procurement as Commander-in-Chief and even so prior to MDF IPDC meeting to approve the procurement and the method to be used? Again, prior conversations with Sattar perhaps?
- There was no documentation evidencing the fact that Malachite FZE was the approved agent for IAG, the manufacturer.
Because of the foregoing, PPDA advised MDF to subject the procurement to competition by obtaining and comparing quotations from various suppliers. PPDA also required that the procurement must be approved by MDF IPDC and further submit evidence of availability of funding for the procurement. Irene Mlewa signed the letter for PPDA withholding the no objection.
Pausing here, what manner of ignorance could have possibly animated the President as Commander-in-Chief to authorize the procurement in the circumstances stated above, and Brig. Gen. Kalino in seeking a no objection when the MDF IPDC had not even met on the procurement? What possibly justified the apparent haste?
Working in reverse, to clock the shenanigans with regularity, a week later, the MDF IPDC met on 20 April 2021 to consider, among others, procurement of APCs from IAG to replace the fleet in DRC. With the Commander-in-Chief having already authorized the procurement earlier, the IPDC truly sat to rubber stamp the authorization into an approval.
So, the MDF IPDC approved the procurement, the single sourcing method, the price already agreed and authorized by President Chakwera before IPDC meeting. Notably, the IPDC was made to believe that the supplier would be IAG when in fact it was Malachite FZE as an agent of IAG. The total price for the two types of APCs approved by IPDC had also changed from the initial US$18,969,600.00 to US$19,993,600.00. The MDF IPDC meeting was chaired by Lt. Gen. P.V. Phiri.
And further working in reverse to dress the procurement with legal compliance, a proforma invoice was obtained from Malachite FZE which also submitted a letter of authorization as IAG’s agent specifically for Malawi. IAG’s letter of authorization is dated 11th April 2021. If the reader doubted that there had been prior engagements with Sattar’s Malachite FZE prior to the letter of 7th April 2021 to PPDA, the proforma invoice from Malachite FZE tells it all. It is dated 8th February 2021, two months before the first request for permission to PPDA which was withheld and before MDF IPDC had met. Who obtained the proforma invoice from Sattar’s Malachite FZE? What was the conversation at that time since MDF IPDC had not met to consider the procurement and its method? Who was involved in that conversation with Sattar’s Malachite FZE and in what capacity?
Anyway, on 30 April 2021 Brig. Gen. Kalino re-submitted the request for permission to PPDA, this time attaching the proforma invoice, IAG’s authorization for Malachite FZE as its agent for Malawi specifically, and assurance of fund availability from Treasury on terms that the payment would be spread over three financial years.
In his second submission to PPDA, Brig. Gen. Kalino yet again referenced the two separate authorizations for the procurement: one by the Defence Council by Chaired by the Minister of Defence who was and is President Chakwera, and the second by President Chakwera in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief.
If anyone were ever in doubt about Chakwera’s cahoots with Sattar, and if anyone desperately attempted to explain away President Chakwera’s letter of 20 September 2020 approving the signing of contract for procurement of anti-riot equipment and armoured water cannon trucks for MDF as innocent, please attempt again to explain President Chakwera’s authorization of this second procurement of APCs draining US$19,993,600.00 of scarce forex over a period of three years, for use in DRC, not in Malawi under the pretense that the procurement is a national security and defence related. Explain President Chakwera’s authorization of not only the procurement, but also the supplier and the pricing way before the MDF IPDC met to consider the procurement and approve the method of procurement, which was done subsequently as a rubber-stamping exercise.
Explain how the all-saintly Chakwera knew and was satisfied with the supplier, the notorious Malachite FZE of Sattar and the price before the supplier was identified by the MDF IPDC which had not yet met by the time of his authorization.
Explain what sort of conversations took place between Sattar and Chakwera leading to the latter’s advance authorization? Explain it if you can! If being ‘mentioned’ in dealings with Sattar without evidence of the details of the dealings is enough for President Chakwera to posture as an anti-corruption crusader, explain what being ‘mentioned’ coupled with evidence as above must entail for President Chakwera.
Having hooked his neck on Martha’s cleverly prepared bait, will he now fire his Minister and Secretary General, and finally himself do the honourable thing least expected of him anyway? Malawians, you mostly likely have a conman for a president, who hides behind saintly appearances as an anti-corruption crusader, just to musk himself as he rapes the soul of the nation with his own corruption.
Until next, which is soon, think again!