DUBAI CONSULATE: Brazilian National Serving as Malawi’s Dubai Consul General Bills Government Billions After Removal

Former President Joyce Banda

BY PIJ REPORTER

Malawi is hanging by the thread as it is only the legal opinion of Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda and Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary (Legal) Mary Kachale that is standing in the way before taxpayers could lose billions in Kwachas.

This could be in the form of payment to former Brazilian national, Gilena Susana Seliman, appointed as Consul General in the United Arab Emirates, who is demanding billions in salary, rental arrears and others. The PIJ was not able to obtain the exact amount billed by Seliman, but sources put it in excess of $200 million (K205 billion).

After ten years as Malawi’s envoy in Dubai, Seliman is on her way out, after President Lazarus Chakwera appointed a new ambassador to represent the country in the Middle East country.

But Seliman is not going gently out of office. She has written to the Malawi government demanding billions in unpaid salaries, office rentals and others.

Malawi Government, however, argues she deserves no pay, following legal opinions by the Nyirenda and Kachale.

Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda

Efforts to reach Seliman and the consulate had not proved fruitful, as we went to press.

Right from the beginning, her appointment was murky and had been controversial for a while. Now her departure promises to be even murkier, if not costly.

This is not the first time Seliman’s Dubai role has raised eyebrows.

In 2017, members of parliament’s International Relations and Defence Committee held public hearings after the media exposed Seliman’s role. Initially, she was erroneously identified as a Nigerian, but turned out to be a Brazilian national who the Joyce Banda administration hired to administer consular services.

Despite the uproar. Seliman withstood the pressure and remained in office throughout the Peter Mutharika presidency.

Former President Peter Mutharika

But Chakwera, once in office, elected to appoint a full ambassador in the UAE and wanted her out. In August 2021, the administration appointed Richard Dyetseni as ambassador before he was later appointed Consul General to Kuwait, leaving Seliman in office.

The new administration appeared geared toward starting a new, clean slate at the consulate.

In October 2022, a team of auditors was sent to review the books. According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson John Kabaghe, the results of that audit are yet to come out. Then the ministry recalled a long-serving immigration officer, Andrew Chifukwa. To date, the official has not left his post.

As the administration pushed for Seliman’s exit, she responded with a demand letter for payment, according to government sources.

Initially, Seliman seems to have her way, again. Upon receiving her demand letter, the initial legal opinion by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to pay and end her long-standing saga, according to documents accessed by PIJ and testimony of sources. The Ministry proceeded to offer her employment contract retrospectively.

“People said, look, there is no contract, but there is clear work she has done, let’s just pay her,” said an official at the ministry familiar with discussions on the matter.

The source said the consensus though has been that Seliman can continue serving as Consul General.

But Kachale intervened. She asked the ministry not to pay as no formal employment contract was signed between the Malawi government and Seliman. In the meantime, on 15th December 2022, she wrote to the Attorney General to weigh in on the matter.

When contacted for comment, Kachale refused to comment on the matter, referring PIJ to the Ministry’s spokesperson, but documents seen by PIJ refer to her opinion.

Mary Kachale, PS, responsible for Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

According to documents we are privy to, the Attorney General endorsed the legal opinion of Kachale. The Attorney General argues that there is no evidence Seliman ever entered any contract with the Malawi Government and that the fact she has never been paid anything is a testament to the fact that she served on a voluntary basis.

“There are no factors on which an implied employment contract can be inferred,” the Attorney General wrote on the same day Kachale’s letter reached his office.

Even if facts were to exist on which to imply a contract of employment, most of the claims by Seliman would be statute barred, more than six years have elapsed since the claims arose, further argues Nyirenda. 

The AG confirmed the matter, but referred PIJ to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment. John Kabaghe, the ministry’s spokesperson, said he was consulting on the matter before issuing a response. 

This is not the first time Seliman is demanding payment from the Malawi government, according to Alex Major, former chairperson of parliament’s International Relations and Defence committee. 

In 2016, she wrote to the ministry demanding payment again but after meetings with Malawi government officials, including the parliamentary committee, the matter was resolved without any payments issued.

“We met her and resolved that issue. She wasn’t paid,” Major told PIJ this week.

Major said while Seliman was not paid a salary, she reaped many other benefits of a diplomat such as tax exemptions, state security, travelling with diplomatic privileges such as no visa requirements in specified countries, among others. 

“But the key person here is former president Joyce Banda. She is the one who appointed her,” added Major. 

Back in 2017, Major and colleagues on the parliamentary committee grilled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in an open session over Seliman, questioning the decision to grant her Malawi diplomatic passport and appointment as Consul General.

Then Principal Secretary for the Ministry, Isaac Munlo (deceased) told the committee that Seliman was appointed by former President Joyce Banda after a meeting in Vancouver where Seliman reportedly offered office space and workers for the consulate.

“The only Malawian there is an immigration officer,” Munlo told the committee.

Former president Joyce Banda did not respond to questions on the matter before publication. 

Former President Banda is herself a former Foreign Affairs minister under both Presidents Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika. But as Malawi’s president from April 2012 to May 2014, she has previously courted controversies over her choices for consular generals.

A recent UK court settlement revealed that officials in Banda’s administration, including, one only referred to as ‘NO1’, took bribes totalling USD 335,920 (around 369 million kwacha) from oil giant Glencore to appear to be purchasing oil from Nigeria which was taken up by the company.

Apart from the codename to the unnamed top Malawi officials, questions over Banda’s possible involvement emerge from Banda’s direct involvement in the government-to-government deal with Nigeria sealed after she met with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja in May 2012, and agreed on crude oil shipping to help deal with Malawi’s perennial fuel shortage. 

At the centre of the flawed deal was the Anyiam-Osigwe family business group. A member of the family, a Nigerian national, was appointed by Banda as Malawi’s Consul General to Nigeria and is named in the Glencore UK settlement.