By

Z. Allan Ntata

(This article was first published by Al Jazeera before they pulled it down citing that it violated some of their rules. However, reports indicate it is the damning revelations about Blair that had it removed)

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.

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.

Blair’s office, as well as the official spokesperson for AGI, released separate statements categorically denying receiving any payments from the Malawi government and insisting that Blair’s presence in Malawi was humanitarian, and the presence of the AGI in Malawi was only for charitable purposes.

Sam Hardy, AGI communications manager, issued a statement on AGI’s website which claimed the stories are “completely false and are based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever”.

He said: “Neither Tony Blair nor AGI has ever received any payments from the Government of Malawi, the President or her office, or any affiliated body.”

The statement clarified: “AGI is an independent charity , the work we and Tony Blair have undertaken in Malawi has been entirely funded from philanthropic sources.”

Nevertheless, Malawians are still left wondering what really were the interests of Blair in Malawi, considering that he appeared on the scene claiming that he would offer governance advice, and that it was during his watch that the Cashgate scandal has been exposed. Could it be that Blair, having allegedly been paid millions to advice on governance, a task he has demonstrably failed to do, is now deserting Malawi at a time when Malawi needs his advice the most?

A growing number of people in Malawi now believe that Blair knew about the high level corruption, fraud and looting and that his only interest in Malawi was financial exploitation.

Partners in crime? JB and TB
Partners in crime? JB and TB

Z Allan Ntata is a Barrister of Middle Temple, London, and an Anti-Corruption Specialist. He worked as Legal Counsel to the President of the Republic of Malawi and Executive Secretary to the Malawi National Advisory Council on Strategic Planning. He is currently completing a doctoral thesis in Anti-corruption and Governance at Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

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