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'Scams" at State house. By Suzgo Chitete

Image taken from The Nation Online

They come with pomp and splendor, enjoying massive support from a wide spectrum of donors. But once their founders are out of power, the entities disappear with no one holding them to account for the millions they will have made.

These are initiatives and charities founded by successive heads of State and their spouses during the 26 years of multiparty rule and which have benefitted from robust funding from the State and private sector as well as from countries such as China and Taiwan. The State support also includes use of public resources, office space, cars and personnel.

The four presidents and their spouses- up to Peter Mutharika – have founded nine charities and three presidential initiatives – five under Bakili Muluzi’s regime; three under the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration; three in Joyce Banda’s two-year rule and one in the Peter Mutharika reign.

While all the 12 entities raised millions of kwacha, there has been no accountability on the resources, according to the NGO Board executive director Voice Mhone.

In a written response, Mhone said the board only became operational in 2015 – meaning it could enforce accountability prior to its existence.

“There was no accountability mechanism prior to 2015 due to many factors, including lack of government seriousness to register and regulate the NGO sector as it operated without an NGO policy [while] the NGO Board secretariat was not supported financially”, explained Mhone.

Muluzi formed the Bakili Muluzi Institute (BMI), Bakili Muluzi Foundation for the Poor, Bakili Muluzi Aids Foundation, Bakilil Muluzi Health for All Initiative while his wife Shanil formed the Freedom Foundation.

Muluzi’s Foundation for the Poors and the Aids Foundation were registered with Congoms [Council for Non-governmental Oragnisation of Malawi]. All the five are no longer operational.

President Bingu wa Mutharika’s three initiatives were Bingu Silver Grey Foundation, which was his own while his first ladies ran two similar initiatives – Ethel Mutharika Foundation and Callista Mutharika Safe Motherhood Foundation. The first two are no longer active and were never registered as NGOs. Even when operating as such, according to NGO Board and Congoma.

Banda formed the Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood, which later metamorphosed into a government initiative. She also ran the Presidential Initiative on Hunger and Poverty Reduction and Mudzi Transformation Trust.

Both presidential initiatives on hunger and poverty reduction and Mudzi Transformation Trust were phased out when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took over government in 2014. But the DPP government seemed to have replaced Mudzi Transformation Trust, which focused on construction of houses for the poor, with the Affordable Cement and Malata Subsidy Programme funded directly by the national budget.

While all the nine charities fit into the legal definition of non-governmental organisation (NGO), three were not registered as NGOs and were operating illegally, according to the NGO board.

The NGO Act of 2001 defines an NGO as any organisation that solicits funding for public benefit and based on this law, such organisations are supposed to register with the NGO Board and provide yearly financial reports as part of an accountability mechanism.

The development has prompted analysts we spoke to, to propose an end to presidential initiatives, which they described a “potential area for fraud”.

The Beautify Malawi Trust (Beam) is the only presidential charity established under Peter Mutharika’s six year rule. Beam, which is registered as an NGO and has been active for the past five years, faces an uncertain future and it is “unlikely to continue following change of power”, a trustee, speaking on condition of anonymity, confided in us.

Another trustee, who has been speaking for Beam, Dingiswayo Jere, said he could not tell the future of the organisation because there is no communication from the patron [Gertrude Mutharika].

“It is only the patron who can tell you what will happen next”, said Jere.

The financial statements at the NGO Board, we have seen, show that in the first two years (2015-2017) Beam Trust raised about K290 million; K134 million in 2015; K119 million in 2016 and K38 million in 2017.

The organisation, which was formed to promote sanitation, has not complied with the law to submit financial statements for years 2018 and 2019, according to records from NGO Board.

A technical report, which we have seen, shows that 88 percent of Beam’s funding came through donations and fundraising and 12 percent from indisclosed sources. Beam has enjoyed support from public institutions such as city councils and utility companies. Private companies such Motal Engil, Sawa Group and Lafarge Cement also made donations to Beam at one time or another.

The presidential NGO also had China as one of the major donors, which in 2016 donated three refuse collection trucks to the organisation. In 2017, China donated K21 million and K33 million in 2018.

Beam has been oragnising some well-patronised fundraising activities at State House, some presided over by the president and raking in millions of Kwacha.

Early last month First Lady Monica Chakwera launched her charitable organisation – Shaping Our Future Foundation (Soff) – which will focus on promoting under privileged girls in attaining education.

Donors seek recognition from President – ex – first lady

In separate interviews, former first ladies – Callista Mutharika and Shanil Muluzi – admitted that State House fundraising activites help to raise resources because most people want to have a connection with the President.

The two first ladies, though passionate about their foundations, indicated that it is not easy to run the same once out of power since donors or people who provide support are not necessarily interested in the initiative but to enhance their visibility before the President.

“Most of those that supported me were interested in securing a relationship with the president or were the president’s friends. So, the support came as a result of our position”, explained Shanil Muluzi.

Former President Bakili Muluzi blamed lack of continuity to politics, saying when regimes change the environment becomes naturally hostile for survival of initiatives established in another administration.

Another former president Banda said it’s not wrong to have initiatives phase out once the founder is out of power, saying they are specific to the vision incumbent. Banda said the essence of creating intiatives is for the president to fast-track their agenda and this is a personal choice.

“We create such initiatives to accelerate achievement of some development goals. It is a personal choice,” Banda said in an interview.