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In Malawi, alleged $3.9m bribe hunts Mutharika’s presidency

The pressure to see off Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika, from office is gathering momentum. The springboard for the unrest is a food scandal in which Mutharika’s name has been mentioned

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The pressure to see off Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika, from office is gathering momentum. The springboard for the unrest is a food scandal in which Mutharika’s name has been mentioned.

A leaked report by the country’s anti-graft agency had accused him of receiving a kickback from a 2.8bn kwacha ($3.9m; £2.8m) contract to supply food to the police.

The report claims a businessman deposited 145m kwacha into an account belonging to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which the president is the sole signatory.

The president’s spokesperson said the claims were “unfounded” and that Mr Mutharika had done nothing wrong. Civil rights organisations have nonetheless given him 14 days to resign, or say they will take to the streets.

The political standoff began after a report by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) leaked onto the internet in the last week of June.

The body has been investigating a Malawi police food supply contract, worth around 2.8bn kwacha, that was awarded to a firm owned by businessman Zameer Karim, called Pioneer Investments.

The report alleges that the head of finance of Malawi’s police, Innocent Bottomani, and Mr Karim had “connived” to award Pioneer Investment a contract to provide 500,000 food ration packs.

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Days after the contract was signed, Pioneer Investment allegedly asked for a change to the agreed price from 2.3bn kwacha to nearly 2.8bn – the report says the change was fraudulently approved by Mr Bottomani.

When Mr Karim was paid for supplying the food ration packs in 2016, he allegedly deposited 145m kwacha into a DPP bank account that is reportedly managed by President Mutharika.

Both Mr Karim and Mr Bottomani have denied involvement in the alleged fraud.

The president initially called the report “fake news” and a ploy by his detractors to scupper his chances at next year’s elections.

“I did not personally benefit in any way from the contract and that’s why I am concerned about the lack of truth. I am worried about what our country has become in as far as peddling of fake news on social media is concerned,” President Mutharika told Reuters.

His office later acknowledged the existence of the DPP bank account on 1 July, telling the Malawi newspaper The Daily Times that the account was set up only to support the party’s fundraising activities.

President Mutharika has been defiant in the face of mounting criticism. He told a DPP party congress that he was not running for “personal gain”.
“I only get 40% from my [monthly] salary of 2.7 million kwacha and the rest goes to government.”

Various civil society groups, the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and the quasi-religious body, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), have called for his resignation.

Politics

Kenya’s Ruto sacks cabinet amidst protests in major win for protesters

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In response to pressure from widespread protests that have produced the greatest crisis of his two-year government, Kenyan President William Ruto dismissed his entire cabinet on Thursday, with the exception of the foreign minister.

After beginning peacefully, the youth-led demonstrations against the proposed tax increases descended into violence, resulting in at least 39 deaths during altercations with the police last month. A few protestors briefly invaded the parliament before Ruto decided against the new levies.

“I will immediately engage in extensive consultations across different sectors and political formations and other Kenyans, both in public and private, with the aim of setting up a broad-based government,” Ruto said in a televised address to the nation, adding that he would announce additional measures later.

In addition, he fired the attorney general but claimed that this had no bearing on the deputy president’s position.

Kenyans had been requesting significant cabinet changes, seasoned anti-corruption activist John Githongo told Reuters.

“Let us see what happens now if the new ministers deal with big issues around corruption and just the arrogance and excess of his administration and the fact that a lot of Kenyans died during the demonstrations,” he said.

“Hopefully this should temporarily calm things.”

Ruto finds himself torn between a beleaguered populace reeling from the rising expense of living and lenders like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pressuring him to reduce deficits. He suggested borrowing more money and cutting spending in approximately equal proportions last week to close the nearly $2.7 billion budget deficit left by the removal of the tax rises.

Although the government has no outstanding debt, many claim that Kenya is likely to miss its IMF targets as a result of the tax rollback. For the fiscal year that began on July 1, the estimated budget deficit is currently 4.6% of GDP.

Dismissing so many cabinet members, according to Ojango Omondi, a community organizer from the Social Justice Centers Working Group in Nairobi, was a “move towards justice,” but activists would want to see who Ruto chooses to replace them.

“It’s one thing to dismiss, the second is to ensure that the people that will be chosen in the cabinet are accountable to the constitution and the rule of law,” Omondi said.

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South Sudan’s president dismisses 6th finance minister since 2020

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Four months into the position, South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, has fired the finance minister, the sixth person to hold the position since 2020, according to state-run television.

The report stated late on Wednesday that Kiir did not explain the dismissal of Awow Daniel Chuong, who was appointed in mid-March of this year. Economist Marial Deng has been selected to take over as finance minister in Kiir’s place.

Due to intercommunal violence, South Sudan’s economy has been under strain recently. Since the civil war that lasted from 2013 to 2018, revenue from crude oil exports has decreased, and more recently, export disruptions have occurred because of the conflict in neighbouring Sudan.

The governor of the central bank, James Alic Garang, declared in May that the foreign exchange reserves of South Sudan had reached all-time lows.

This year, the International Monetary Fund predicts that consumer price inflation will soar to 54.8%.

After South Sudan separated from Sudan in 2011, Kiir was elected as the country’s first president.

In December, the nation is scheduled to elect a president, members of the legislature, and regional delegates.

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