BY PIJ INVESTIGATIONS
Former Secretary to President and Cabinet Zangazanga Chikhosi is not walking quietly into the night.
After his unceremonious dismissal as the country’s top civil servant, the former SPC has left heads shaking and tongues wagging in the corridors of power after taking into his supposed public service abyss three high-end cars, including one state-of-the-art vehicle which was meant to be used by the country’s State Vice President.
The other cars are a top-of-range Mercedes Benz and Toyota VX which were his official vehicles.
The top-of-the-range V8R Land Cruiser originally purchased for the Vice President cost the government over 141 million kwacha, according to prices sourced from the internet without factoring in shipping costs.
The posh car was not officially assigned to the Chief Secretary, however. Well-placed sources told PIJ, that the vehicle was procured after the Vice President was involved in a car accident in 2020 as a replacement for the vehicle which was damaged.
But while noticing delays by OPC through treasury to purchase the vehicle, the Office of the Vice President decided to procure another vehicle through its own budget allocation. That meant when the first ordered vehicle arrived, it was kept at OPC and a source claims the former SPC kept custody of the car at his house and has not returned the car to date.
President Lazarus Chakwera on 31st May sacked Chikhosi and hinted he will redeploy Chikhosi elsewhere.
On exit, the SPC then reportedly picked up two official vehicles, and OPC’s new czar Colleen Zamba, alarmed at the development, wrote his predecessor to question the move described by one insider as a “clear planned theft of government property.”
Sources at the Office of President and Cabinet have collaborated with the Platform for Investigative Journalism findings, but off record, no official was availing himself to confirm the circumstances and provide an official record.
“He is clinging to a new V8R which is not his entitlement plus two other vehicles. Its theft. People are scared of him. The new boss is insisting he should surrender two vehicles back,” said a Capital Hill source.
PIJ has also seen official correspondence on the matter confirming internal inquiries on the whereabouts of the vehicles.
Chikhosi himself when contacted did not pick up our calls nor respond to text messages sent via the messaging platform WhatsApp which were blue marked confirming he read the text messages. We also sent a reminder days later to ensure we satisfy the ex-SPC’s right to reply.
SPC Zamba did not pick up our calls nor respond to our written questions on the matter.
But in reaction to the PIJ social media platform banner on the impending publishing of the story, Treasury Spokesperson Taurai Banda indicated that the new SPC has also just acquired a high-range vehicle which has not however been procured at the time of austerity measures.
Banda said the vehicle was lying idle at the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) premises and has just been driven to Lilongwe for her use. He said MRA procured the vehicle in 2020 and to confirm that it is not new said the current mileage is at 89,000 kilometres.
Information Minister and Official government spokesperson, Gospel Kazako acknowledged our questions on the matter but referred PIJ to the Human Resource Department at OPC.
Office of the Vice President spokesperson Pilirani Phiri confirmed that the office of the Vice president had requested procurement of a new vehicle to replace the previous one which had been involved in an accident but said OPC did not deliver the vehicle in time hence the office procured one using its local budget.
“I can confirm that we at some point asked OPC to buy a vehicle for the Vice President but we eventually bought the vehicle through the budget allocated to the Office of the Vice President. For the other details, please contact treasury or OPC,” said Phiri.
According to a retired former Chief Secretary, speaking on condition of anonymity, government has an obligation in contracts to the SPCs, Chief Justice, and Speaker of parliament that it will provide a vehicle to them in retirement plus pay salaries for a driver.
Phiri could not confirm if the vehicle requested by the VP was purchased eventually by OPC nor confirm the value of the vehicle requested or the one eventually bought by the Office of the Vice President.
“The vehicle can either be the official car which you are also entitled to buy or government can assign you any other car. In some cases, government can say we will buy you the type of car needed later on but the decision belongs to government,” said the former SPC.
A senior government official familiar with contracts for senior public officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also ruled out any legal arrangement that would allow an outgoing SPC to return three government vehicles.
“The SPC and Deputy SPC are on Grade A and B on government grades. On that level, you can get your car after using it for five years or which has clocked over 1000 kilometers. Even PSs, after a certain period of time, you are allowed to buy the car not just take it,” said the senior official, ruling out any possibility of three vehicles being part of the retirement package.
PIJ has not seen any correspondence nor spoken to any source who has suggested that the former SPC has bought or requested to buy the three vehicles.
Additionally, according to the source, the senior government officials’ contracts restrict them to a single official car (which they can buy after a five-year term) but also allow them to buy another car outside the government service, duty-free.
The official gave examples of previous SPCs (at some point known as Chief Secretary to Government) such as Hawa Ndilowe who utilized the scheme to depart with the official car, a Toyota VX, and George Mkondiwa who left with VX.
“It’s impossible to get three cars. You are allowed only to use one official car, you can access any other car on the pool,” said the senior official.