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Chikaonda, Press Trust and national interest

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The news is out, George Partridge is the Chief Executive Officer-designate of Press Corporation Limited (PCL), ending the 14-year reign of Mathews Chikaonda at the corporation. The Nutcracker hereby congratulates Patridge and wishes him well and similarly wishes Chikaonda a fruitful new lease of life wherever he goes.

One might wonder why PCL is a public interest company requiring analysis. The reasons are many but one of them is that it is the largest holding company in Malawi. PCL tentacles spread across the entire private sector in Malawi. This conglomerate has subsidiaries, joint ventures and associates in financial services, telecommunications, food and beverages, energy and consumer goods. In simple terms, what happens to this corporation has an impact on the economy of Malawi, hence Malawians should be interested in performance of this entity.

In addition, the company is owned by several shareholders one of which is Press Trust with 44.47 percent, making it the largest single shareholder. The other shares are owned by Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas with 22.34 percent, Old Mutual with 18.82 percent while the remaining shares are owned by several others. Those of us old enough will understand the importance of Press Trust to the people of Malawi and how politically important this institution is. The Malawi Parliament in November 1995 passed the Press Trust Reconstruction Act, which redefined Press Trust’s charitable objectives. In other words, Press Trust shares in PCL are directly interlinked to the Malawian citizenry. According to paragraph three of the Press Trust Deed, the main object of the trust is “to provide funding by way of grants, donations or contributions to any person or institution for charitable purposes which are in the interest and for the benefit of the people of Malawi including for the advancement of their education, health, social welfare and housing”.

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The debate on whether Chikaonda’s reign was good for PCL (hence in the national interest) or not is not going to be settled easily bearing in mind the heated exchange of opinions earlier this year between the Democratic Progressive Party government and Chikaonda. Between 2002 when he became Chief Executive Officer of PCL in April and December 2015, PCL discontinued operations of 12 subsidiaries, namely Maldeco Fisheries Limited, Enterprise Containers Limited, Press Trading (Pty) Limited, Press and Shire Clothing Limited, Press Clothing and Textiles (Pty) Limited, PGI Limited, Press (Produce) Limited, Press Foods Limited (Head office), National Poultry Limited, Metpress Zambia Limited, Press Bakeries (a division of The Foods Company Limited) and Hardware (a division of Hardware and General Dealers Limited). Eight of these companies were owned 100 percent by PCL and two were 50 percent owned. At the end of 2015, PCL made a before-tax profit of K3,391 million, equivalent to $27.4 million from the 20 entities comprising subsidiaries, joint ventures and associates.

PCL in 2005 had varying interests in the following companies (ownership); Malawi Distilleries Limited (100 percent), The Foods Company Limited (100 percent), Maldeco Aquaculture Limited (100 percent), Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company Limited (42 percent), Hardware and General Dealers Limited (100 percent), Ethanol Company Limited (66 percent), People’s Trading Centre Limited (50 percent), BP Malawi Limited (50 percent), Malawi Pharmacies Limited (90 percent), Macsteel Malawi Limited (50 percent), Presscane Limited (50 percent), Bottling and Brewing Group Limited (44 percent), National Bank of Malawi Limited (52 percent), First Discount House Limited (30 percent), Press Management Services Limited (100 percent), Manzinzi Bay Limited (100 percent), Sales Services Limited (100 percent) and Press Bakeries Limited (100 percent).

At the time Chikaonda is leaving PCL, the total number of interest has reduced to the following subsidiaries; National Bank of Malawi (51.41 percent), Press Properties Limited (100 percent), Manzinzi Bay Limited, The Foods Company Limited (100 percent), Ethanol Company Limited (66 percent), Presscane Limited (50.1 percent), Malawi Telecommunications Limited (52.7 percent), Telecom Networks Malawi Limited (41.31 percent), Peoples Trading Centre Limited (100 percent)and Press Properties Limited (100 percent). In addition, PCL has two joint ventures in Puma Energy Malawi Limited (50 percent) and Macsteel Limited (50 percent). Finally, PCL in 2015 had two associates in the name of Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company (42 percent) and Carlsberg Malawi Limited (39.6 percent).

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By the time Chikaonda leaves PCL, the 2016 accounts will not be out and only then shall we be able to have a complete picture of his performance. However, by December 2015, the corporation made a before-tax profit of K25,589 million equivalent to $38.51 million, this was a 25 percent drop from the 2014 before-tax profit of K34,190 million. On the surface, it is a good performance; however, there is a catch in this figure. In 2015, PCL had interests in 12 entities in the form of subsidiaries, joint ventures and associates, and K19,600 million was profit from one entity, National Bank of Malawi (where Partridge is the CEO). In other words, one entity contributed close to 77 percent of the before-tax profits in 2015. When the dust settles, what happens during Partridge’s reign will be the best measure of whether Chikaonda’s reign was a success or not. Meanwhile, the debate will continue and surely because PCL is owned by a national interest trust, Partridge will not escape the limelight in his performance. The Nutcracker can only wish him well.

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