STATE HOUSE USING POWERS OF THE INCUMBENCY TO GET MINISTRY OF LANDS HOUSES

His Excellency Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera with the newly appointed Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Ms. Colleen Zamba

… Some President Chakwera’s Advisors Not Honouring Monthly Rentals

… State House Says The Ministry Disapproves Their Requests, Sometimes

… Lands Minister Kawale Says Lands Houses Strictly for Civil Servants

BY PIJ INVESTIGATIONS

The State House is allegedly using the power of the incumbency to demand 13 more Treasury Funds Houses owned by the Ministry of Lands in the city of Lilongwe to accommodate more staff members from the State Residence. This is on top of 13 other State House employees occupying such houses, who are already defaulting or failing to pay their rentals in time.

State House could neither confirm nor dismiss that they require 13 more houses, but dismissed sentiments from the unnamed Ministry of Lands officials that they are trying to force their way into the ministry’s houses. 

Most of those who default on paying their rental arrears or failing to honour their rental obligations in time include most of President Lazarus Chakwera’s advisors and staffers, according to the Lands Ministry.

All this notwithstanding, the State House has allegedly arm-twisted the Ministry of Lands to evict 13 more tenants living in these houses who were informed through 13 identical letters dated March 8, 2022.

The letters, signed by the ministry’s Estate Management Officer Gift Kagoli on behalf of the Secretary for Lands, simply stated that Government was informing the tenants that it had another use for the houses they leased to them. The ministry, therefore, gave the targeted tenants a three months lease termination notice from March 8 to June 8.

“You are requested to settle all your utility bills before vacating… I regret the distress this may cause to you,” the letters said in closing.

Tenants Challenge Through The Court

The decision has since been challenged in court by five of the 13 tenants including Paul Gondwe, Zaine Bwanali, Lawrence Malela – trading as JDN Properties, Elizabeth Thawale, and Dannyly Hassen as first to fifth claimants respectively, who sued the Secretary for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development.

In their argument, Gondwe and others submitted that the termination of tenancies, in the wider context, should undergo a judicial review through their application for leave.

“Government, through the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, lets the Treasury Fund Houses to members of the general public. The houses have, since time out of mind, been managed for the benefit of and let to members of the general public in need of them on a first-come-first-served basis. Government is, in this sense, a ‘social landlord’ providing affordable housing to members of the general public,” argued the members in their submission through their lawyer Yambani Mulemba of Knight and Knight.

He further adds: “The provision of subsidised housing, as opposed to the provision of housing itself, is, in my opinion, a function which can properly be described as governmental. Almost by definition, it is the antithesis of private commercial activity. The provision of subsidy to meet the needs of the poorer section of the community is typical, although not necessarily, a function which government provides.”

And in the Judicial Review Cause No 23 of 2022, presided over by Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda, on June 15, the court granted an interim order for the stay of the decision to terminate the claimant’s tenancies in the Treasury Fund Houses pending determination of the judicial review application.

State House Tenants Not Favoured

Some top Government officials at the Lands Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are, however, opposed to the idea of leasing more houses to State House staff members.

“If we make steady revenue from these houses, then it comes from ordinary clients that have no connection to any political influence,” said a highly placed source from the ministry. The source further informed PIJ that those with political connections, especially from the State House, rarely meet their contractual lease obligations in time and sometimes not at all. 

Most of the State House staff members stay or stayed in these houses located in Areas 12, 10, and 43 where the house rental fees ranges per month between MK 280,000 and MK 110,000. Others stay in Area 11 where the rental fees are between MK110, 000 and MK150, 000 per month.

As of March this year, the following were staying in the identified houses: Assistant Chief of Staff Mercy Zulu Kamlopa in house number 10/526; Gideon Kalumbu State House Director of Finance in 10/180; Lally Nitta in 10/370; Dr. Levi Mvula, State House Chief Technical Advisor in 10/451; Dr. Samson Lembani, Chief Presidential Advisor on Policy and Governance in 10/182; Solomon Kavuta, State House Director of ICT in house number 10/428.

Deputy Advisor to the president on Religious Affairs Sheikh Hashim Abbas in house number 43/2/144; Chris Chaima Banda, fired Chief Advisor to the President on Strategy and manifesto implementation in house number 10/525; Dorothy Ngoma, Special Advisor to the President on Safe Motherhood in house number 10/524; Siphiwe Thembulembu State House Household Manager in 12/316; Moses Kunkuyu, Presidential Advisor on Chiefs and Rural Governance in house number 11/49/2.

Maxwell Ng’ambi, State House Chief Technical Advisor on Brand, Media and Communication House number 12/392; Rev. Maurice Munthali, the Special Advisor on Peace, Reconciliation, and Nation-building in 12/81; Colonel G. Jalale in 10/510; former Special Advisor on People Living with Albinism and Disabilities Overstone Kondowe in 12/275.

Secretary to the President and Cabinet Collen Zamba

The current Secretary to the President and Cabinet Collen Zamba was also allocated house number 12/131 when she was Presidential Chief Advisor on Sustainable Development Goals and International Relations before she became Head of the Presidential Delivery Unit, but she allegedly kept on demanding continued renovations as she was not happy with the state of the house.

Adamson Mkandawire was also occupying house number 10/369, in his capacity as the Chief Presidential Advisor on Rural Transformation and Development.

Who Owes The Ministry of Lands

While PIJ did not source records on the other staffers, it has seen 11 letters that the Ministry of Lands wrote to the State House officials on March 21, this year, demanding that as tenants they needed to pay rental arrears of different amounts.

The letters, signed by the Ministry of Lands Director of Housing Mixon Chiundira, indicated that the rent arrears at the time were ‘calculations as of January 31, 2022’, meaning that even at the time of writing the letters, the amounts were either huge or less.

“Should you find that you already paid the rent being claimed to be in arrears, please kindly bring rental payments receipts to the department of housing for reconciliation,” the letter states.

In the letters, that have different reference numbers, but carry identical messages, the director of housing is fearing ‘evicting’ the apparent defaulters but instead is seen pleading:

“Will you please settle these arrears to avoid further accumulation of the same? You may wish to know the Treasury Fund relies on the rentals collected from these houses for maintenance works that are carried out on the houses”.

According to the letters, Chaima Banda at the time of writing the letters in March this year owed the ministry K1.2m; Lucious Banda – Special Advisor on Arts and Youth—K3m for house number 11/19/2; Thembulembu- K1.4m; Rev. Munthali – K540,000; Kavuta – K2.24m; Kamlopa – K740,000; Abbas—K2.8m; Chisomo Nkhoma, State House Head of Media Design, in house number 11/30/D4—K2.74m; Kondowe- K1.98m; and Ngoma-K2.24m.

Fired Press Secretary to President, Brian Banda, who used to stay in house number 10/451 was yet to pay rental arrears of K2.52m at the time that the letters were issued in March this year.

Ministry of Lands Insists that Treasury Houses are Strictly for Government

​Minister of Lands Sam Kawale told PIJ they do not favour State House. 

“We issued eviction notices to State House employees for non-payment of rent,” he disclosed.

Kawale also argued Treasury fund houses are not for the general public. He insisted that people cheat each other about these houses. Treasury houses, Kawale said, are for civil servants only.

“State House is part of Civil service. Everyone who received a letter of eviction is not a civil servant,” he said.

The Lands minister said there were more than 30 houses with Nigerians, Chinese, Koreans, and Indians in them, but now they want to give the houses back to civil servants.

As a ministry, Kawale said they have denied some because they are not eligible to be there.

“MHC [Malawi Housing Corporation]is the one that gives houses to

 the general public, not lands,” said an adamant Kawale.

State House Acknowledges Rental Arrears

Presidential Press Secretary Anthony Kasunda confirmed that indeed, some weeks ago, the Ministry of Lands informed the State House of staff who are not paying their rentals.

“Measures are already being developed to ensure that these individuals fulfil their obligations to the Ministry of Lands to avoid suffering the consequences that the Ministry is fully empowered to enforce,” he said.

Among others, PIJ wanted to establish why the State House is demanding more accommodation spaces when it has houses within the premises of the State Residences.

Kasunda said the State House has housing units for security and household personnel whose departments provide uninterrupted round-the-clock services, ‘but there is no room to accommodate Administrative staff’.

Kasunda also told PIJ in a questionnaire response that to address the housing shortage among staff, the State House requests the Ministry of Lands from time to time to inform the State House whenever there are houses available for rent so that State House staff can be accommodated at their own expense in locations that ensure that they are not hindered from delivering seamless services to Malawians.

“But such houses are neither demanded from the Ministry nor is the Ministry forced to avail them,” Kasunda stated.

He said there are occasions when the Ministry does not approve State House requests, as it is the Ministry that determines the availability of housing for public servants and the terms thereof, as distinct from the terms on which the Ministry rents houses to private citizens.

The Director of Housing in the Ministry of Lands, who also authored the letters, did not respond to the PIJ questionnaire, although it was clear that he had received it as we had used the messaging application WhatsApp which shows when the message has been delivered and read. He also did not pick up our calls several times for two consecutive days.

Some Concerned State House Tenants Speak Out

We were unable to talk to Kavuta and Kamlopa about their arrears.  

However, Abbas, Kondowe, and Thembulembu, when contacted, did not respond to text messages sent via the messaging platform WhatsApp which were blue ticked, confirming they had read the text messages.

They also ignored reminders sent the following day after the initial contact.

In an interview, Chaima Banda said he secured the house as a private citizen and not as an employee of the State House. He said ever since he was arrested alongside Aford President Enoch Chihana and former Minister of Energy, Newton Kambala, it has been hard financially. He said he was fired from his post after the arrest, and it has not been easy.

“But right now I have made an effort to pay back the arrears, and I am now remaining with K540, 000 which I am paying tomorrow,” you can check with them.

Rev. Munthali confirmed having received this letter indicating that there were rental arrears of MK540, 000 for house No. 12/81 by 31st January 2022.

“I need to find out from Lands Department if there is still an outstanding amount owed in rentals as of today,” he said.

Lucious Banda said it’s not fair for the Ministry of Lands to use him as an example of State House staff that are failing to pay their rental arrears because he had lived in that house for 18 years.

“I don’t think this Government has been there for 18 years, or I have been at State House for 18 years. That house has got nothing to do with State House. I did not acquire it through State House,” he argued.

The legendary musician also said, since he got the house in 2004, the Ministry of Lands better use an example of someone who got a house after the new administration offered them employment at the State House.

“In the past, I have been taking several months before paying. At one time I had a bill of K1.6 million, but I still paid. Last year when I was about to settle the bill I fell sick and from then I have been struggling to sort them out,” he said.

“Yes, I have not been paying because I am spending much of my resources on hospital bills for myself and my brothers. I intend to sort it out soon,” added Lucius.

Ngoma conceded that it indeed took some time before she made her first payment towards her rental arrears.

“I have so far paid up to the end of July if I am not mistaken, but you can check with them. Unless otherwise, so far I don’t have any arrears, I think,” said Ngoma.

Former President Chakwera’s Press Secretary Brian Banda said he only got to see the letter from the Ministry of Lands when PIJ talked to him, otherwise, it was written around the time that he travelled to China.

“I was on the phone call with the Director of Housing Mr. Chiundira who assured me that this was not an issue at all. You can call him if you want to,” said the top Times TV Host.

He added that they have created a payment plan which will enable him to settle the rental arrears.

Nkhoma also told PIJ that he never received the Ministry of Lands communication before, and he, therefore, could not comment until the State House contacts the ministry to verify its authenticity and address the inaccuracies contained in it. 

“Following which you will receive an official response from the spokesperson of State House,” he said.

Governance Activist Victor Chipofya said it is unfortunate that for some reason people who work for the State House or are close to the presidency in Malawi have always seen themselves as more deserving than any other citizen in this country.