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No end in sight to this footballgate

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ANALYSIS BY PETER KANJERE:

Talk in the last two weeks has been about how match-day tickets that were supposed to gross K44 million, realised K39 million with K5 million growing wings and disappearing from Bingu National Stadium (BNS) in Lilongwe.

Speaking during a press briefing in Lilongwe two weeks ago, a group of concerned individuals, led by former Football Association of Malawi (Fam) general secretary, Charles Nyirenda, faulted the association for presiding over gate fraud.

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“All games organised by Fam leave a mark of ticket scandals. Why so? The FA’s management of gates is marred by suspected fraud in fake tickets, unreconciled balances and personalised staff-related gate firms,” Nyirenda said.

The group also urged Anti- Corruption Bureau and Fiscal Police to investigate the matter.

The big question is whether the real men behind the Footballgate, the men who have always run this Malawi football criminal enterprise, will ever be found.

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Except some fans who were arrested and convicted after being caught with fake tickets in Chifundo Charity Shield last year in Lilongwe, the masterminds always gets scot free.

Because no one gets arrested, despite millions missing in Lilongwe during the Airtel Top 8 semi-final between Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers a fortnight ago, the police did not pick anyone. Even for a mere face-saving questioning.

If anything, the police appear disinterested in such fraud because, they too, as match stakeholders, are suspects.

After the Chifundo Charity Shield match fraud last April, Fam introduced security features called Tamper Evident Security Holograms—an extra layer of security—on entry tickets.

“We are working very closely with the printers to make sure that there are no flaws. Every stage has been duly audited and certified,” The Daily Times edition of April 29 quoted Fam Marketing and Commercial Director Limbani Matola as saying.

On Thursday, Matola said they will now deploy website-based match ticketing system in Sunday’s final between Bullets and Blue Eagles.

Meanwhile, FDH bank, whose officers were overpowered by the organised criminals two weeks ago at BNS, has since severed ties with Fam.

Such a system of 2017 was supposed to minimise gate fraud; hence, it was supposed to be adopted across the board. The success and flaws of the system were never known. It was dropped silently.

A few months later on September 6 2017, The Daily Times reported that tickets, worth K4 million, went missing during a TNM Super League match between Wanderers and Silver Strikers at BNS.

The clubs claimed that tickets worth K4 million went missing whereas Super League of Malawi (Sulom) insisted that it was a booklet of tickets, valued at K150,000, that was stolen.

Some people, including a police officer, were seen selling tickets from a minibus parked outside BNS but they were not arrested. Who could arrest who in the case?

The conductor of the bus was picked by police for questioning and as expected, he was released.

Sulom Treasurer, Tiya Somba- Banda, was then quoted by The Daily Times that the police were handling the matter.

“Unfortunately, the guy in uniform wasn’t caught. The tickets that were being sold on the parallel market were not fake. A genuine booklet of serial numbers 12901 to 12300 was stolen from the cashiers. The booklet was worth K150,000 and not K4 million,” he was quoted as saying.

Banda said the handovers by the gate management supervisor to the cashiers was not done properly as they only recorded the number of tickets given to cashiers without taking down serial numbers.

“During balancing, the concentration of the supervisors was only on the cash received. We came to know about the incident soon after the commencement of the second-half [of the game].

“By the time we reached the spot where the tickets were being sold, the guy in uniform had left the place and we found counter folios on the ground. That is how we noted the serial numbers,” he told The Daily Times.

Wanderers Chairperson, Gift Mkandawire, was not amused last year. He is still not amused with the latest Footballgate.

“Now, it seems the crooks have discovered loopholes. We need to cement the holes with strong concrete. No one is above the law,” The Daily Times quoted Mkandawire as saying last April.

Silver General Secretary, Thabo Nyirenda, then echoed Mkandawire’s concerns.

“We feel that enough-is-enough because it is the players and clubs that suffer. We were told that the tickets were printed in Blantyre and somewhere along the line the handovers were not done properly. We feel this ticket scam involves people that are close to top football bodies in the country,” he was quoted as saying.

Nyirenda nailed it by saying that the actual masterminds of Footballgate are the big fish.

In 2016, some Fam officials and police officers were implicated in a ticket scam during Chifundo Charity Shield match in Lilongwe.

To save face, Fam set up a commission of inquiry but the matter died a natural death.

That the latest incident is happening at the state-of-the-art BNS is not surprising. The facility was supposed to have e-ticketing gadgets.

At least this is what Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Culture, Director, James Ndalama, told The Daily Times’ edition of October 28 2015.

“In fact, we want all stadiums in the country to have e-ticketing system, but the Bingu National Stadium will be the first. This will help to end gate fraud and congestion at the gates because there will be no selling of tickets at the gates or around the stadium,” he was quoted as saying.

It was too good to be true. Little wonder, nothing happened. You can bet you kwacha that after the latest incident, nothing will happen. Too many people stand to lose if this organised syndicate is busted.

The latest scandal will die down with no real culprits pinned down. No lessons learnt.

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