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Malawi government downplays MSB narrative

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Malawi government has played down comments that have faulted President Peter Mutharika’s State of the Nation Address for ignoring the controversy surrounding the recapitalisation of state-owned Malawi Savings Bank (MSB).

Minister of Transport and Public Works Francis Kasaila — who is also Leader of the House — said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Times that the MSB issue is supposed to be handled by the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development and not the president.

Different commentators including influential quasi-religious organisation, the Public Affairs Committee (Pac), said they expected the president to say something on the MSB saga.

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In an interview with The Daily Times of May 5, Pac chairperson Felix Chingota expressed concern over Mutharika’s omission of the bank in his address, arguing that apart from other important issues like the looming hunger, Malawians expected the president to say something on MSB’s apparent recapitalisation.

Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera also wondered why government would pump K6 billion into MSB instead of simply asking those that owe the bank to repay their loans.

Said Chakwera: “Where is our sanity as a country that in the midst of grinding poverty, shoddy public services, meagre salaries for teachers and the police, for example, we have the temerity to give MSB MK6 billion to bail out crooks who do not want to pay back what they owe MSB?”

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But Kasaila is still of the view that Chakwera should have held his patience as he waits for a report to be presented by the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament on the bank’s issues.

“We agreed that the Budget and Finance Committee should analyse the MSB issue and present a report. The report has not yet been presented but [Chakwera] expects the president to make a judgement on the issue. That is not the way things are done.

“Hon Chakwera should have waited for the presentation of the report before starting asking questions. The MSB issue is something that the Minister of Finance can handle just like many other issues which are handled by ministers,” said Kasaila.

He added that the MSB saga is a small issue that should not be handled by the president who “has more pressing issues to deal with”.

“As far as the National Address is concerned, the president is not supposed to talk about small issues. The recapitalisation of a bank is not an issue that the president is supposed to handle. That can be properly handled by the minister who is available in the chamber,” charged Kasaila.

But according to the Pac chairperson, there still were some small issues which the president dwelled on in his address which overshadowed some critical issues which could have offered hope for Malawi.

Kasaila further chided opposition MPs: “We are used to a kind of opposition that is just opposing everything. The same opposition asked government to recapitalise MSB so that it is not closed. I don’t know how they expect us to recapitalise MSB.

“I don’t know if they expect that even if we repossess the property of those people that owe MBS money, we will sell it within the time that MSB should be recapitalised. Government had to come in to protect it and if that is a wrong decision, probably, time will tell.”

In previous commentaries, different stakeholders including the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) have hit at Capital Hill for apparently absorbing the bank’s loans obtained by companies which are still in business and have not been declared bankrupt.

Additionally, the initial report issued by the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament on MSB’s recapitalisation largely blamed government for failing to support the bank’s initiatives to collect the money from Mulli Brothers Limited (MBL).

Meanwhile, government has disclosed that it will set up a debt collection entity that will recover the loans, an action which observers have extensively trashed, arguing it is difficult for a company to manage to collect money where a bank has failed.

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