A businessman in Lilongwe, Ahmed Chunara, has been arrested in connection with the K5 billion worth of cement deal which he allegedly imported from neighbouring countries for profit using the duty free status of former president Peter Mutharika.
Chunara has since been given bail on Wednesday and eye brows were raised by the public after he came to court without handcuffs and escorted by two beautiful policewomen.
But that is neither here or there. The matter which the courts will be dealing with was whether the President of the Republic of Malawi used his duty free status to aid a private trader to make profits and what was his motive, if any, for doing that.
That is why top aide to the former president Norman Chisale is in the loop too on the same matter because he was the first to be arrested and was only released on bail last Friday when drama ensued at the magistrates’ court in Lilongwe after he was re-arrested for another offence of shooting a woman in Blantyre.
Curiously, the victim of Chisale’s shooting has attempted to withdraw the case through an affidavit but the Police would have none of it that as we speak, Chisale is remanded at Chichiri Prison waiting for bail ruling at High Court on Monday.
Sorry, I diverted just to fill you in.
The issue at hand is that matters concerned with the Tax Payer Identification Number (TPIN) of the former president being used for private gain are in court and the preliminary correspondence seems to suggest that Mutharika himself knew what was going on because State House and MRA officials exchanged letters to that effect.
Mutharika has a story to tell Malawians on the matter other than boring them to death with Facebook posts about meeting Eastern Region DPP officials at his villa in Mangochi and talking about leading DPP back to power in 2025 for a man that has just celebrated 80 years of age.
Even if Malawians were bewitched by the devil himself, they have no reason to elect an 85 year old as president and to lead them to where?
I repeat; the issue Malawians want to hear from the mouth of Mutharika is why are there Police accusations that his TPIN was used for private gain?
All this calls into question how the duty free status enjoyed by our presidents has been abused and probably it is time to look into it with a view to tighten the noose so that private traders do not take advantage and abuse it.
I do not think the framers of the law, Parliament, wanted our presidents to extend the use of this status to private gain. If that were the case, it could have been difficult to provide motive for such a law.
When all is said and done this matter leaves a bitter sour taste in the mouth of law abiding citizens, both individual and corporate, who sweated and toiled under the yoke of exorbitant taxes imposed on the them by the DPP government and how they suffered humiliation at the hands of the party’s cadets at MRA who used their power to collect tax to punish those they deemed were against the regime.
In view of the above, while the nation is grappling with whether Mutharika and his minions abused his duty free status for profit, the MRA board that President Lazarus Chakwera appointed this week has its work cut out.
Deep and far reaching reforms are needed at MRA to have a tax body that can execute a fair tax system in Malawi other than the cruel one that the DPP cadets were executing on law abiding citizens.
As the Mutharika issue is clearly showing, the burden of paying tax in Malawi was left in the hands of poor people and struggling corporates who are harassed at gun point leaving out the rich and the connected to the presidency to enjoy duty free status and make astronomical profits.
Again, all the scandal shows is we had an MRA that was so happy to kill local industry pleasing instead powerful traders connected to the ruling class.
Lafarge, Cement Products Limited (CPL) and Shayona were being cheated that something was being done to protect them when the reality was that they were put under the bus by a government that issued cement import certificates to private traders who were also being helped to get the product into Malawi duty free by powerful characters in the Presidency.
The three were being duped at a time when the same DPP government was cheating Malawians that there was Best Buy Malawi campaign when the President and his minions did the opposite.
The cement companies had no chance in hell of surviving the onslaught and it is no wonder they are on their knees.
The lessons for the new Dr Lazarus Chakwera government are stark clear: Clean up MRA and make sure payment of tax is not the preserve of the voiceless poor and struggling corporates only.
We need a fair tax system not abused by those connected to power like it happened in the DPP cruel regime.