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LWB, BCC caught up in funds abuse

Reyneck Matemba

CHIKUNI —Who was I to say no?

Details are emerging that Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and Blantyre City Council (BCC) were once cash cows for Beautify Malawi (Beam) Trust run by former First Lady Gertrude Mutharika and former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Documents that The Daily Times has seen indicate that LWB paid K29.29 million to Gaston Arts for construction of sculptures statues at Parliament and Capital Hotel roundabouts on behalf of Beam Trust.

“Please refer to our letter of 21st November, 2018 in which we requested an upfront payment of K17,577,060 translating to 60 percent of the contract sum and another letter of 21st January, 2019 in which we requested a payment of 20 percent of the contract sum translating to K5,859,020. The payments were duly paid to us.

“The works are fully executed and we are now asking for final payment of K5,859,020. This is the final 20 percent of the contract sum,” reads part of a letter from Gaston Arts to LWB Chief Executive Officer dated April 25, 2019.

Payment vouchers from LWB indicate that the money was duly paid to Gaston Arts on December 12, 2018 for the upfront payment.

Other payment vouchers we have seen include contribution to DPP blue night fundraising event in 2016 amounting to K10 million.

At BCC it is alleged that the council entered into a contract with Beam Trust in which the latter leased two refuse collection trucks to the city at K60,000 per day amounting to K22 million per year.

It is alleged that BCC did not seek approval from the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority to enter into the deal.

Reacting to the allegations, former LWB Chief Executive Officer, Alfonso Chikuni—who was at the helm at the time of the transaction—said he was only receiving “instructions from above”.

“You know as CEO you have bosses also, meaning you do not operate in isolation. On the issue of the DPP Blue Night, the late chairperson, Francis Mbilizi, wrote me to authorise payment of the K10 million. You can even crosscheck with Lilongwe Water Board.

“The most important thing is that I insisted that these requests be in written form. So if it was an instruction from the chairman who was I to say no?” Chikuni said.

On the issue of the roundabouts, the former LWB CEO said they were built under the Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] component.

“It is the board that instructed us that we should embark on [CSR] by among others constructing bus bases and beautifying the roundabouts. You know in every project that one can do, it is not 100 percent perfect. The bus bases made a very positive impact on school going children but then people are talking a lot because the other project failed. But all in all the projects were done on good intentions,” he said.

But observers are wondering why LWB, which has always been struggling when it comes to supplying water to the city’s residents could engage in such activities.

Regarding the BCC issue, the council’s Public Relations Manager, Anthony Kasunda, referred the matter to the city’s Mayor, Wild Ndipo, who insisted we should speak to Kasunda.

On his part, one of the trustees of Beam Trust, who was a signatory of the requests for funds, Dingiswayo Jere, said he has no idea that the requests could have been politically motivated.

“We do not know the politics that was there, from outside this was just part of an operation to source funds,” Jere said.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has written the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) to institute investigations on the alleged abuse of office by officials at LWB and BCC.

In a letter dated November 1, 2020, HRDC Chairperson and National Coordinator Gift Trapence and Luke Tembo, respectively, say the human rights body is of the view that LWB should not have been involved in the construction of sculptures.

“LWB made an upfront payment of 60 percent to Gaston Arts. Normal upfront payments, generally, do not exceed 20 percent. For your information, HRDC took LWB and DPP to court because LWB paid K10 million under the guise of Blue Night fundraising.

“HRDC has also received allegations that LWB had on its payroll former president Mutharika’s stepson, Tadikira. His name was reflected in the engineering section. It is alleged that despite being paid by LWB, Tadikira never reported for duties. It is also alleged that his name was also appearing on the payroll of the Roads Authority,” reads the letter in part.

Meanwhile, ACB Director-General Reyneck Matemba confirmed Sunday having received the letters from HRDC saying: “Just like any other letters we have received, we will also institute investigations on the matters raised.”

LWB through its spokesperson, Maurice Mkawihe, asked for more time to comment on the matter.

The board is also facing land scam allegations where its senior officers allegedly inflated figures for two plots the board purchased valued at K16 million and K24 million to K20 million and K44 million, respectively.

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