As a cloud of uncertainty continues to hang on why President Peter Mutharika sacked Malawi Defence Force (MDF) commander Ignacio Maulana last month, it has emerged that he aborted a multimillion dollar military equipment procurement deal in which Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa got involved.
In the deal, reportedly worth $54 million, Nankhumwa and former MDF deputy commander Griffin Supuni Phiri planned to procure 500 vehicles from Ashok Leyland for the MDF reportedly without the matter being discussed within the MDF ranks.
Maulana was fired from his position and replaced by Supuni who was inaugurated last month.
Both Supuni Phiri and Nankhumwa have dismissed the reports.
These details of the deal are contained in a memo which we have seen, written by Maulana dated July 2016 reference number CQ/206.
Running under the headline ‘Procurement of ammunition and vehicles for Malawi Defence Force’, the memo says Nankhumwa and Supuni made an arrangement to procure vehicles for MDF and the matter was not discussed anywhere within MDF.
Maulana says in the memo that he reported the two to Minister and Secretary for Finance and Economic Development Goodall Gondwe and
Ronald Mangani respectively and insisted that whatever Nankhumwa said on the procurement lacked truth.
He protested against such arrangement arguing that MDF was already in contract with SF International for the supply of vehicles.
He argues further that the contractual agreement [with SF International] was in disarray because of outstanding bills which the government was yet to pay the supplier and that the matter was being handled by the Attorney General.
According to the memo, the issue of procurement of ammunition and vehicles for the MDF attracted high level meetings including one between Gondwe, Nankhumwa, Mangani, Maulana and Supuni Phiri on Friday July 8 2016 and another meeting on Saturday on July 9 2016 between Gondwe and Maulana.
Then conversations on the procurement of the vehicles followed starting with Mangani and Maulana.
Then another conversation between Deputy Minister of Defence Aggrey Masi and Maulana followed on July 11 2016 and it was on procurement of the vehicles and ammunition. Masi has since moved to Home Affairs ministry at the same rank.
“I pointed out during the meetings… above that [the] arrangement to procure vehicles for Malawi Defence Force by the Minister of Local Government, Hon Kondwani Nankhumwa MP and Deputy Defence Force Commander, Lt Gen GS Phiri from Ashok Leyland was never discussed at any MDF and/or MOD management meetings.
“The statement by Hon Nankhumwa on the issue, while devoid of truth was also misleading and very unfortunate,” writes Maulana in the memo.
Maulana adds: “You may wish to recall that this was being discussed while there already exists another running contract between SF International and MDF (Malawi government) for the supply of vehicles to MDF. This is currently being handled by the Attorney General’s office…”
Maulana says the agreement between MDF and SF International was signed in December 2012 and delivery of vehicles stopped in January 2014 “apparently due to non payment by Malawi Government.”
When called on Wednesday last week to explain the issues and his rebuff of Nankhumwa, Maulana laughed after introducing the subject and then said: “Let me consult. I will come back to you.”
He never availed himself for further interviews.
But in an interview on Thursday, Supuni Phiri said there is no way an arrangement to procure anything for the MDF can be done without the knowledge of the Army Commander.
Nankhumwa, on his part, said MDF does not report to the Ministry of Local Government, a suggestion that he was not involved in the alleged deal.
In an interview on Thursday this week, Supuni said he did not understand how Nankhumwa was involved in the issue.
“I do not know how he [Nankhumwa] is coming in,” he said.
He added: “There is no way we can procure vehicles or anything without the commander knowing. Like as I am the current commander, I cannot make procurement arrangement on my own.”
Supuni said no agreement was entered between MDF and Ashock Leyland.
He admitted that MDF is in shortage of vehicles and that it had discussions with several companies to supply including Ashok Leyland, IVECO, Tata, TEM but no agreement was entered with any of them.
“There is only a technical report with recommendations but there is no agreement reached with any of them,” said Supuni.
When asked how he got involved and whether he was acting on behalf on behalf of someone else, Nankhumwa said Maulana was best placed to provide answers as it was him who had authored the memo:
“I think such questions and details can be provided by the author of the document himself. But there is no way the MDF would report to the ministry of Local Government but the ministry of Defence as a line ministry,” he said.
Mutharika appointed Maulana as Army commander in June 2014. He has since been reassigned to the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA).
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