12 October 2016

Malawi: President Mutharika Meeting 'Mysterious' People 'One-By-One' in U.S, Says Govt Spokesman

Photo: Nyasa Times
President Peter Mutharika inspects guard of honour (file photo).

Malawi government spokesman Malison Ndau has told BBC that President Peter Mutharika remained in United States after attending the UN General Assembly in New York to meet "a number of people one by one" dismissing rumours about Mutharika's health.

Mutharika has not been heard from since the UN General Assembly, which ended on September 26th and activities which Ndau claims he is conducting have not been publicised on state media.

Asked on BBC what is the exact location of the Malawi leader, Ndau said:"Yeah, the President is in America, after the [UN]General Assembly, he had some assignments to do, there were some people he was intending to meet but he couldn't do so during the general 'allemby' [sick] period, so they had arranged that after the assembly he could meet them one by one."

When asked how many people is President Mutharika meeting, Ndau said: "Exact number I don't know but its a number of them."

BBC asked Ndau to explain how long are these "meetings" supposed to take.

He answered : "They were arranging a number of days."

Pressed to name the people Mutharika was meeting, he said: "Of course I am not aware who exactly they are."

Put to him if he asked who the President was meeting, he said: "yes, but I was told he is meeting number of people and upon his arrival in Malawi its when he will tell the nation who he has been meeting with."

Quizzed on the President's health if he is fit and well, Ndau said there has been rumours of illness which he said were not true.

"Of course there have been those rumours but there is not time the president had been taken ill," said Ndau.

Ndau is also minister of information and communication.

He was asked if he is aware what is costing the Malawian tax-payer everyday of President Mutharika's stay in United States, but he feigned ignorance.

"No I don't know the exact how much is his cost there," he said.

Ndau said he speaks to the President "everyday" and when asked if he had spoken to him on Wednesday, the government spokesman said: "Not today, because most of the times we speak in the evening."

He said Mutharika spoke to the minister on Tuesday and disclosed that he would return home on Sunday.

Brain Tumour claims

Local political activist Gerald Kampanikiza who recently challenged government to provide video evidence to disprove the rumours of Mutharika's illness, has maintained his claims that the Head of state is unwell.

Kampanikiza claims Mutharika is in New Jersey at medical facility called Robertwood Johnson University Hospital.

He also alleges the President has "brain tumour."

Kampanikiza challenged government to release video or photos of Mutharika activities after UN General Assembly.

But government spokesman stressed that spreading such "baseless, malicious and sickening" rumours was criminal.

Ndau maintained that Mutharika was in "very good and robust health" and still carrying out his duties while in America.

'Missing in inaction'

Mutharika's 'absence without leave" issue has now been trending in the international media of high repute.

Apart from the BBC, The Economist also carried the story and Washington Post published it with Associated Press (AP)copy by Gregory Gondwe.

The Economist reported that whether Mutharika was in fact ill or merely spending time with his three adult children, who live in America, the government's refusal to be transparent about the president's whereabouts displays arrogance, quoting Boniface Dulani, a political scientist at the University of Malawi.

"The Big Man is not only the sole holder of wisdom in the country, but he's also supposed to be this infallible character," Economist quoted Dulani. "To say that I am ill might actually weaken the image of the Big Man."

It also quoted unnamed Western official, who said the lack of transparency can have real consequences,and that the government should be "focused and on their game" with the impending hunger crisis.

The report said, no one knows whether Mutharika is concentrating on the plight of his people while silently spending their money.

Washington Post story of AP quoted the executive director of Malawi's influential body of religious groupings, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Robert Phiri, who said "the principles of transparency and accountability" compel President Mutharika "to explain why he abruptly decided to stay in the States longer than earlier communicated."

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