Former president Peter Mutharika’s recent statement that he has nothing to do with the importation of cement worth about K5 billion which was done using his Taxpayer Identification Number (Tpin) does not exonerate him, various observers have said.
Last Friday, Mutharika released the statement following the arrest of his personal bodyguard Norman Chisale and businessman Shafee Chunara who have been hooked in the cement scam.
Mutharika said in the statement that he neither bought nor instructed anyone to buy or import the cement in question, let alone requesting the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to invoke any of his privileges to clear the alleged consignment of cement duty-free.
But private-practice lawyer George Kadzipatike says what Mutharika has done does not necessarily exonerate him, but may just shape the discourse and investigations being carried out on the matter.
“It is important to note that Mutharika has not been summoned or arrested. His coming out, of course, might have helped clear certain issues, but whatever happens to him is discretionary to the law enforcing authorities,” Kadzipatike said.
Asked on how the police are proceeding after Mutharika’s statement which was signed by his personal secretary Linda Salanjira, Deputy National Police spokesperson Tomeck Nyaude refused to comment on Mutharika’s statement but reiterated that investigations into the K5 billion duty-free cement saga are ongoing.
“Let me not comment on the statement that the former president released to the public, but our investigations are ongoing. Wherever our investigations lead us to, we will do our job,” Nyaude said.
Speaking to us on condition of anonymity, a customs authority at MRA said Mutharika may not be off the hook yet, stressing that to his knowledge, the cement saga was a scheme of aiding money out of government coffers.
“The question is at what point did the president accordingly initiate the process that he wanted to draw his privileges. The Tpin is personal to holder. It is a requirement for a Tpin holder to write the [MRA] Commissioner General if a second party has their authority to transact on their behalf.
“The Commissioner General gets to the customs clearing authority; after their own assessments of goods in question, they revert to the Commissioner General for approval of the transaction or not. As at now there are several missing links from my perspective,” said our source.
Political commentator George Phiri said if Mutharika’s statement is anything to go by, it smacks of carelessness on his part, as such rendering him unbelievable.
After the cement importation saga had come to light, then-Presidential Press Secretary Mgeme Kalilani argued that Mutharika had not flouted any law by importing the consignments as it was within the President’s Salaries and Privileges Act.
But questions were raised on what the former president was constructing that would require that he imports 60,000 tonnes of cement.
Meanwhile, political and social commentators and human rights activists have urged investigating agencies to dig deeper into the duty-free importations, warning that it may be beyond cement only.