Blantyre, Malawi, March 14 (Raphael Tenthani – Newstime Africa) - Former presidential legal advisor Allan Ntata has expressed surprise at his inclusion among the dozen people charged with treason over an alleged coup plot in the aftermath of the death of former Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika.
The 12, who include Bingu’s own brother Professor Peter Mutharika, former Chief Secretary to the Government Bright Msaka and his former deputy Necton Mhura, former Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe, were fingered in a report into Mutharika’s death as having played one role or another in plotting to upstage the then Vice-President Joyce Banda from assuming power as stipulated in the Constitution.
“I was surprised to be included in the group but I have no reason to be afraid of anything or to fear anyone,” said Ntata from his base in the United Kingdom. Soon after Mutharika, 78, suddenly collapsed in his office and subsequently died on the way to Lilongwe’s Kamuzu Central Hospital from cardiac arrest complications on 5 April last year, cabinet ministers and senior government officials held a number of secret meetings aimed at preventing Banda from assuming power, according to the Commission of Inquiry headed by retired Supreme Court of Appeal judge, Justice Elton Singini.
Mutharika and Banda had fallen out as her boss preferred his younger brother, Peter, to take over from him when he retired in 2014. Banda, who was next in the succession line, resisted the anointment of the 72-year-old Washington State University constitutional law professor, and was subsequently expelled from the then ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
She subsequently founded her own People’s Party (PP). According to the report, Mutharika, Msaka and Gondwe had suggested to Army Commander Gen. Henry Odillo that the army “just take over”. But Odillo told the
Commission “he was uncomfortable with the suggestion for it was not provided for in the Constitution”.
As the Mutharika administration haggled over what to do, it delayed the confirmation of the President’s death and instead sent his dead body to South Africa for, according to former Information Minister Patricia Kaliati’s April 6 midnight press conference, “further treatment”.
The administration grudgingly confirmed Mutharika’s death on April 7 and Banda was quickly sworn in on the same day. President Banda immediately set the commission to look into her predecessor’s death. The Singini Commission presented its report to the President on March 6. State House made it public the following day and the wave of arrests followed last Monday.
Ntata, who was not arrested alongside the group because he was not in the country, told News Time Africa in an exclusive interview Friday no government official has informed him of the charges against him or that he was wanted by the authorities.
“I’m not a fugitive, fugitive from what? I haven’t been contacted by any Malawian authorities,” he said, adding: “I cannot speculate on what I will do. I will respond to situations as they arise. I will make a decision whether to come or not when they ask me.”
Asked what his role was during the days proceeding Mutharika’s sudden death, Ntata said: “My role in the saga was to give legal opinion, especially with regards to the presidential referral which I had filed with the constitutional court.”
Ntata, 39, left Malawi for the UK even before his boss was buried. But he dismissed reports that he was running away “from something”. ”People can speculate anything they like to speculate. I had projects that required me to leave Malawi and attend to them,” he said, adding: “In fact he (the President) had already accepted my request to travel abroad long before he died.”
He said his contract was coming to an end in May, 2012, and “I had already made a decision not to have it renewed in order to write my PhD thesis and I had lined up job interviews.” Currently, according to him, he is employed by a university in the UK.
In the aftermath of Mutharika’s death reports were rife that Ntata, in his capacity as presidential legal advisor, had advised cabinet that since Joyce Banda had founded her own party she ceased to be ‘First Vice President’ but had now became ‘Second Vice President’ which precluded her from illegibility to succeed
her estranged boss.
This thinking was repeated by Kaliati at the infamous midnight press conference. Ntata denied ever giving such advice. ”I’m hearing this from you,” he said.
Former Attorney General Maxon Mbendera, according to the Singini report, advised the then cabinet that no other person than the then incumbent vice-president could succeed the fallen president, according to the Constitution.
Ntata, who has just published a book entitled: “Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa” which analyses the Mutharika presidency, faulted the way the Banda administration has reacted to the findings of the Bingu death inquiry report.
“I had expected the government to address much more pertinent and urgent issues raised in the Singini Report such as constitutional gaps and lack of proper VIP medical care in Malawi. Instead, the government has focused on political arrests,” he said. “In my view, the treason case against opposition leaders in Malawi is Joyce Banda’s desperate attempt to divert people’s attention from her loss of focus and direction and her failure to respond effectively to the economic suffering she has brought upon Malawians because of her ill-advised policies. These arrests demonstrate that in Africa, old political tricks of
simply silencing your political opponents are still alive and well.”
Other former officials netted during the Monday unprecedented wave of arrests include Kaliati, former Local Government Minister Henry Mussa, former Youth Minister Symon Vuwa Kaunda, former Health Minister Jean Kalirani, former Presidential Affairs Minister Nicholas Dausi, former deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa and former Presidential Guard Commander Duncan Mwapasa.
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