…his casket was not paid for, a month after his death
..K85 million contributions cannot be accounted for
..MCP officials point fingers at Chimwendo, Ching’anamuno
The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is spitting on John ZU Tembo’s grave, as cash and cows donated during his state funeral have disappeared.
As of 6 pm on Friday, 27 October 2023, President Lazarus Chakwera, his government, and his party- the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had not settled the funeral expenses of the man who used his personal resources to keep the party for 20 years, so that Chakwera and company could find and use it to get back into Government.
In one of the most embarrassing cases of political gluttony, Local Government Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda and Minister of Mining Monica Ching’anamuno are being mentioned as having withdrawn millions of kwachas from the special account for services that depleted the account before settling essential bills.
The unpaid bills shockingly include the casket and undertakers and numerous service providers, after companies and individuals donated over K85 million channelled through the Office of the President and Cabinet. The Investigator Magazine has confirmed that the account has no funds as of Friday, after it was withdrawn by members of President Chakwera’s cabinet.
John Zenus Ungapake Tembo, former President of the party since 2003, once a member of the Presidential Council and a politician who since 1960 was a member of the Malawi Congress Party, died on 27 September 2023 and President Chakwera ordered a state funeral for the veteran politician.
The funeral had to be delayed, as President Chakwera was in the United States of America and the costs inflated, but details show Ministers used the funeral as a cash generator, some outrightly stealing donated cows.
JZU dead, MCP sets up a team
The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Secretary General Eisenhower Mkaka on receiving confirmation of the demise of the party’s former leader, set up a committee of MCP officials Chaired by Treasurer General Dr. Albert Mbawala to oversee the funeral programme.
The committee included Cabinet Ministers Deus Gumba who is Regional Organising Secretary for the Party for the Centre and Monica Ching’anamuno, among others. Gumba was entrusted with the responsibility of collecting funds during the funeral, while Ching’anamuno chaired the food and catering team.
Dr. Mbawala and team met the Tembo family, which had instituted its own committee and together they drew up a budget that came to K19 million, which was committed to be settled as soon as it was practical.
Lands Minister Gumba was in the United States and Local Government Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda was in Zambia. Most of the Ministers in Malawi did not play any role during the first five days of the funeral until President Chakwera returned on Monday.
Cabinet Committee takes over
Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba is said to have informed the family during the weekend prior to the funeral service that President Lazarus Chakwera had directed that the funeral would be a state one and as such a Cabinet Committee had been instituted Chaired by Defence Minister Harray Mkandawire.
Ministers, according to senior MCP officials had not been participating in the funeral arrangements until when it was confirmed that the President would land on Monday, 2nd October 2023.
Apart from Mkandawire who seemed to have been reduced to a sideshow during the process, others were Gumba, Chang’anamuno, and Gender Minister Jean Sendeza.
The MCP officials could not confirm the Local Government Minister Richard Chimwendo’s role in the committee as he was everywhere after his return from Zambia.
MCP committee says it accounted for its K11 million
The MCP committee chaired by Dr. Mbawala, designated Gumba as the main financial contact point during the funeral who in turn entrusted Dedza South MP Ndaila Onani and Mr. Chinkhondo to be collecting the condolences money.
“The MCP collected at least 11 million maximum during the funeral services, at times there were requests from the Cabinet committee, but these were rejected that we had been informed that government was responsible for everything, so we kept the money for condolences,” said an MCP insider.
Another member of the party said, that despite having no role in the initial committee, Chimwendo Banda who is the party Director of Youth, turned up at one of the meetings of the committee and then almost took over the running of the funeral logistics.
“The Cabinet Committee never requested for a meeting to find out how far we had gone with our preparations. They started running their own program and we became watchers,” said a member of the committee.
“On Saturday after the funeral, we handed over any balances to the Tembo family, closing our role, said a member of the committee, which was confirmed by someone close to the family. He said the MCP committee did its job and did not use the collected funds.
The Chairperson of the Committee Dr. Mbawala told The Investigator Magazine that his committee did not handle the donations from corporate entities and key figures, saying the Ministerial committee was in charge.
“The issue of outstanding balances from the family was referred to my committee. My committee wrote the Chair for the Ministerial Committee about outstanding bills from the family, and we are waiting for feedback,” said Mbawala on Friday.
He added that, “Our priority was to make sure we give a dignified burial to our fallen hero and that we achieved. As far as I am concerned, everything went on very well and the issue of outstanding bills from the family is being taken care of by the Ministerial committee.”
Ministerial committee’s K85 million grow wings
Companies and high-profile individuals including President Lazarus Chakwera and his predecessors- Peter Mutharika, Joyce Banda, and Bakili Muluzi all gave condolence money, and the funds were to be channeled through a special account at the Office of the President and Cabinet.
The assumption was that the condolence money would support the funeral expenses and the leftovers sent to the family as per tradition, but Cabinet Ministers who managed the account had other ideas.
One month later, essential funeral expenses are unpaid and in an embarrassing episode for the President, the money has been depleted, without even the undertakers being paid.
“This is unbelievable. Every funeral prioritizes adzukulu people who take care of the departed in our culture. But the Ministerial committee seemed to have had a different objective. How can you explain that the funeral costs have not been settled?” asked our OPC source who gave us the story.
Despite people and companies donating K85 million in cash, the money is said to have been shared by Ministers to pay for food and flowers, which nobody accounted for.
Minister Chimwendo Banda, according to insiders, hired a catering service without consultation and some of his closest family members were seen serving people during the funeral services at Malawi Congress Party headquarters in Lilongwe.
“He was billing K3,000 or K4,000 per plate and at MCP headquarters they claimed they had fed 4,000 people and at Dedza during the funeral, they claimed they had fed 7,000 people which is impossible,” said another source who oversaw the funeral logistics.
At K3,000 it means Chimwendo Banda’s associated catering services were paid at least K33 million kwacha which would be higher than the whole funeral budget and at K4,000 it would translate to K44 million nearly half of the raised amounts.
All the bills presented by the Ministers have been settled.
OPC records show the Minister withdrew monies for payments, the same with Mining Minister Ching’anamumo was said to have been given for other logistics. There are also payments for coasters and transport which Chimwendo Banda is said to have hired outside the committee’s authorisation.
“The whole party is shocked. The problem is that everyone fears him. He is the right-hand man of the President. During the event, there was a problem with the Ministry of Lands which looked after accommodation and transport during such funerals. Cabinet ministers jumped into the ring and were literally chasing after the money,” said a very senior MCP official.
Missing cows, goats, and donations
Several people also sent cows to be slaughtered for the funeral and Ministers are said to have received them, but they never turned up at Tembo’s residences nor the meat given during the funeral service.
“One Minister received the cows, slaughtered them, and sold them back to the funeral. He was literally double-dipping. He got free meat and charged the funeral committee for the same. This type of greed is unbelievable,” said another MCP official.
After we published the poster on the story, 12 MCP officials and members of the public said they gave monies ranging between K50,000 and K200,000 but their names were never acknowledged in public meaning an additional K1 to K2 million just grew wings.
Salvaging the party reputation- eyes on President Chakwera
Thievery and corruption under President Chakwera seem to be growing every day and it has been tolerated that the embarrassing episode reflects the situation within the MCP where gluttony over public resources seems to be the order of the day.
A close associate of Tembo who retired from politics, called The Investigator Magazine on Sunday, saying the public will be waiting to see if Chakwera can stand up and end impunity that is destroying the image of the party as one of the most “corrupt parties” ever to govern Malawi.
“To the extent of stealing cows and selling them again to the funeral account. To the extent of failing to pay for his undertakers when people gave more than enough. If this cannot warrant action from the President to discipline such Ministers, then let all Malawians know who encourages such behaviour,” said the veteran politician.
Another of Tembo loyalists said it was shocking as some of the Ministers suggested that JZU’s nephew “Morgan Tembo is filthy rich should pay for those costs” which he said was the highest sign of disrespect to the departed leader.
“If Government did not poke its nose to pretend, they cared for Tembo, I am sure the family would have had a reasonable budget and settle its bills. They looked after JZU for years and did not beg anyone for charity. MCP and Government went to the family asked them to delay the funeral, increased the bills and took away all the donations and shared among themselves. To say they are greedy is an understatement. If they can do that to JZU Tembo, if they can spit on his grave like that, I don’t know what else this new MCP is capable of,” another MCP veteran said.
The Tembo family declined to comment, Chimwendo Banda was said to be in South Africa while Mkandawire, Ching’anamuno, and others mentioned in the story did not respond to our WhatsApp messages.
We have been also informed that OPC has called for a meeting, one month after the burial to talk about outstanding bills, hours after our poster was published. We will update the story as new developments and documents appear.