Malawian President Joyce Banda is under attack for not dealing effectively with the scandal [AFP/Getty Images]
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative rushed into Malawi soon after Joyce Banda’s rise to the presidency. Banda was a beacon of hope and fresh air to most Western power brokers as she succeeded Bingu wa Mutharika who had driven his country’s economy into the mud while also developing a rather abrasive relationship with Western donors.
Through his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), Tony Blair’s presence at the Lilongwe state house was regarded as an important goodwill gesture. Malawi’s first and Africa’s second female president could only benefit from the governance expertise of Blair’s organisation.
Eighteen months later as Malawians continue to suffer hardship in the wake of the biggest corruption and financial mismanagement scandal ever recorded, Blair has pulled out of Malawi amid allegations that Banda may have paid the former British PM millions of taxpayer money for governance consultancy and advisory services.
Newspaper reports published in Malawi allege that the payments made by Banda to the Africa Governance Initiative were made illegally as they were made outside the budget and without the approval of the parliament. In Malawi, Banda has come under fire from critics and civil society for not disclosing to Malawians the exact nature of Blair’s presence in Malawi. Many are also worried that this impoverished southern African country’s empty coffers may have paid the former British PM such huge sums of money, reported to be in excess of $5m when all along, Malawians have been made to believe that Blair’s presence in the country was a charitable act.
Neither Tony Blair nor AGI has ever received any payments from the Government of Malawi, the President or her office, or any affiliated body.
Citing confidential documents obtained from the Malawi capital, Lilongwe,press reports claimed that, on President Banda’s orders, the Malawi government signed a contract with Tony Blair as an individual to be advising the Malawian leader on regular basis. The reports further claim that some of Blair’s staff working under the AGI were placed in the Malawi president’s office for regular monitoring of performance and evaluation of progress, and to play an advisory role in the absence of the former British PM.
Additionally, it is alleged that Blair and the AGI staff, operating from the president’s office in Lilongwe had access to the Malawian leader 24 hours through telephone and that face-to-face appointments with the president needed to be guaranteed to the Blair team at short notice.
According to the allegations, at least eight payments were made from the Malawi treasury at various points in 2012, just months after Banda took over the presidency following the death of the late President Bingu Wa Mutharika. The Malawi government was paying Blair through various banks accounts in the names of “the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI)”, “Tony Blair Associates”, “Windrush Ventures” and “Firerush Ventures”. All the payment details were referenced to Blair’s operating office addresses: PO Box 60519, London W2 7JU (Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, Central London.)
Three weeks ago, as pressure continued to mount on Banda’s administration regarding her failure to deal effectively with the corruption scandal now christened “Cashgate“, the former British PM announced he had severed all his ties with President Banda.