Blantyre, Malawi (PANA) - The stand-off between Malawi and Britain over the expulsion of the British High Commissioner to Malawi, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, and a multi-million kwacha housing scam involving top government officials, including President Bingu wa Mutharika's brother, dominated the Malawi media this week.
"Malawi Deports British Envoy" screamed the headline in The Nation which reported the surprise decision by the Malawi government to expel the top British envoy over a leaked diplomatic cable that was scathing towards President Mutharika and his government.
"The High Commissioner was summoned to see Foreign Affairs Minister Prof.. Etta Banda on 18 April in response to an article published by Weekend Nation," the daily quoted British High Commission's Political Affairs Officer Lewis Kulisewa as saying, adding: "The High Commission awaits official notification of what the minister said at that meeting and will make a statement to the media."
According to the media, Cochrane-Dyet's cable to British Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague outlined a number of concerns on good governance and human rights.
"The governance situation continues to deteriorate in terms of media freedom, freedom of speech and minority rights," the British envoy was quoted as saying.
"This despite a joint statement of concern released by donor ambassadors in February. While this state is not exceptional by regional standards, there are two significant factors: first the negative trend is likely to continue for at least the next three years; second Malawi is heavily dependent on aid (30% of its budget, UK a major donor)."
The reaction from London over its envoy's expulsion was as swift as it was unequivocal. "Britain Warns Malawi," screamed the headline in The Daily Times, reporting on the invitation of Malawi's Charge d'Affaires to the United Kingdom, Flossie Gomile-Chidyaonga by Britain's acting Permanent Under Secretary, Sir Godfrey Adams.
"Sir Adams added that if the Government of Malawi pursued such action there were likely to be consequences affecting a full range of bilateral relations," the daily quoted a statement released by the British High Commission as saying.
He urged the Malawian authorities, through the Charge d'Affaires, not to proceed down such a road.
The media carried an array of condemnation from civil society, religious and opposition leaders, most whom described the expulsion of Cochrane-Dyet as "crazy".
Some, including the Peoples Progressive Movement (PPM), urged Malawi to apologise to the British Government - which is Malawi's former colonialists and largest aid donor - for the unprecedented move.
"Government Has Lost Direction - PAC" was the headline in The Nation which reported a statement by the quasi-religious Public Affairs Committee (PAC) that also condemned Malawi's decision to expel the British envoy.
"The recent development of the intended expulsion of the British High Commissioner confirms PAC's position that the current leadership is not ready to yield to divergent views on issues affecting Malawi," the daily quoted PAC Chairman, Rev. MacDonald Kadawati, as saying.
The week also saw an expose of major housing scam involving top government officials, including Prof. Peter Mutharika and Lands and Housing Minister John Bande, who bought public houses at heavily reduced rates.
"MHC Loses K105m In House Scam," reported the daily, saying that 22 houses where shared among ministers Mutharika and Bande and senior officials at MHC, a parastatal.
"The houses were valued by MHC, then there was an outcry that it was on the higher side therefore we engaged the owners of the houses (government) to revalue the houses," the daily quoted MHC General Manager Golden Matiya as saying.
In the scam, Mutharika, tipped to stand in the 2014 election on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket, enjoyed a 62 per cent discount, Bande got a 49 per cent discount while Matiya himself a 33 per cent discount.
A church where the MHC CEO is an elder got a whooping74 per cent discount.
According to the daily, opposition leaders have described this as obscene and urged those involved to return the houses and the anti-Corruption Bureau to probe it.
President Mutharika and those involved are yet to comment on the scam.
-0- PANA RT/VAO 23April2011