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Press Board Chair resigns

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A month after we laid bare a deep sense of disquiet at the conglomerate Press Corporation Limited (PCL), chairperson for the PCL Board Symon Itaye has resigned from that capacity.

Last month, PCL management and the government were at daggers drawn following the appointment of the two Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gurus into the PCL Board.

The two were appointed almost immediately after they had finished serving their maximum two six-year terms in the board of Press Trust which holds a 44 percent stake in Press Corporation Limited.

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The move stirred a wave of discontent within the rank and file of the PCL system as it was seen to be a calculated manouvre by the DPP-led administration to gain influence of the Press establishment, probably the country’s richest, and use it to shore up its political image.

When contacted at that time to confirm the appointments of the two DPP politicians into the PCL Board, Itaye said he was not aware of it yet and that if that was the case, the matter would be discussed at their next meeting which was held early this month.

Now Itaye has resigned.

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And, although he could not commit to the reasons for his decision to quit, an inside source has confirmed to Malawi News that Itaye has resigned following a move to remove him as PCL Board chair, a development which could pave way for one of the two politicians assuming the chairmanship of the Board.

“Yes, I can confirm that I have resigned and the reasons are personal,” he told Malawi News on Friday.

Pressed whether it was to do with the appointment of Ben Chidayonga and Peter Mwanza into the PCL board, Itaye insisted he would rather be silent on the reasons why he has decided to leave.

But a well-placed source within the Press Trust system, who is privy to the internal goings-on over this matter and also to the contents of Itaye’s resignation letter, indicated that Itaye has resigned for being ‘tossed around’.

According to the source, Itaye was nominated on to the PCL board by Press Trust and “when these issues [the alleged DPP invasion] started, Press Trust recalled Dr Bernard Zingano on the PCL Board and nominated Ben Chidyaonga, DPP Director of Logistics, in his place.”

“They also indicated that they were going to recall Itaye and nominate Peter Mwanza in his place. But after the fall out [between PCL and government last month], Itaye was the one who managed the fall out and then Press Trust withdrew their intention to recall him from the PCL Board,” said the source.

However, a few days ago, Press Trust made a u-turn on its decision and wrote again about their intention to recall Itaye soon after the PCL Annual General Meeting which is slated for July this year.

“So he has said ‘enough is enough, you are tossing me around and I am resigning’.

“There will be a board meeting next week Thursday (May 5) where a new chairman will be elected by the board. Remember, a DPP politician in the NGC [National Governing Council] is also there and could become chairman, for all we know,” said the source.

At the height of the saga last month, Press Trust confirmed the appointment of the two and, while admitting the political colours of Chidyaonga and Mwanza, the Trust said they would not politicise the operations of PCL.

Press Trust Chief Executive Patrick Mhango told Malawi News then that Chidyaonga and Mwanza are “professional people of repute and would want to safeguard their reputations” by ensuring that they do not allow their political affiliations to influence their work for PCL.

“It is true that Professor Mwanza and Mr Chidyaonga are members of a political party or political parties. But I can assure you that for as long as I have been with Press Trust, during their tenure on the Board of Trustees, they never politicised any business or matter of the Trust.

“They, with professional integrity, served the Trust as a national institution and never brought their political affiliations to bear on any matter or business of the Trust. I cannot imagine that they would change this commendable attitude and seek to politicise the operations of PCL,” Mhango said.

He said their appointment to the PCL Board had followed procedures as laid out in the laws governing the operations of PCL and Press Trust.

Around the same matter, PCL executive management and the government went into a war of bitter words when we exposed the displeasure within PCL management at the appointments.

In a strong-worded statement in reaction, government lashed back at the PCL executive management, headed by Chief Executive Officer Mathews Chikaonda, for “completely destroying the intended character of PCL”.

In the statement, government accused Chikaonda of presiding over the closure of 11 PCL companies and for also approving huge car allowances for himself and some senior officers, among other abuses.

“These finance manoeuvres are therefore not just obscene, but are also illegal and criminal conduct. Fortunately, the Trustees have put a stop to these immoral and callous allowances.

“We also hear that there are some clandestine interviews going on, some even at night, to seek and prepare friends or relatives for high positions in PCL. We want to make sure that this illegality and rot must stop,” said government in its statement.

PCL however dismissed all issues which government raised in its statement.

PCL, which is also listed on London Stock Exchange (LSE), has stakes in Ethanol Company Limited, Carlsberg Malawi, Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company Limited, Macsteel Malawi Limited, Malawi Telecommunications Limited, Maldeco Fisheries, National Bank of Malawi, Presscane Limited, Press Properties Limited, People’s Trading Centre Limited, Puma Energy Malawi and Telekom Networks Limited.

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