BLANTYRE – A British newspaper, The Telegraph on Sunday reported that UK former Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing questions over his role as adviser to Malawi President Joyce Banda following the corruption scandal dubbed as ‘cashgate’ which has forced Britain and other Western donors to withhold budgetary aid.
Blair and his charity the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) has been working closely with President Banda since August last year.
According to the newspaper report, Conservative MPs and campaigners in Malawi are now demanding to know whether Blair and his team were aware of the corruption allegations.
It said they want to know whether Blair was warned about corruption, and if so what he did about it. If his team was ignorant, then it raises potentially embarrassing questions about what AGI’s “governance” programme meant to achieve.
The said among the officials arrested were some working directly with AGI but noted that there is no evidence that President Banda is involved in embezzlement.
“This is potentially very embarrassing for Tony Blair. He needs to explain what his people were doing there,” The Telegraph quoted Richard Bacon, a Conservative MP and member of the public accounts committee.
“What did they know given they were there for more than a year? If they didn’t know anything, then why not? If they are in the president’s office what does that say about the quality of the governance?”
Rafiq Hajat, director for the Institute for Policy Interaction in Malawi, is also quoted by the UK paper that he had mistrusted Blair’s arrival.
“I would certainly take these people (Blair’s team) to task to find out what exactly they had done or not done,” said Hajat. “I have seen many well-intentioned Brits come here to help the government with this or that and they find themselves deliberately blocked every step of the way. They end up throwing their hands in despair and serving out their time, waiting for the day they go back home.”
AGI began working in Malawi following a visit from Blair who said he wanted to “put on record” his “admiration and respect” for Banda’s leadership, and Malawi’s “exciting possibilities”.
But a spokesman for Blair said that neither the former prime minister nor AGI had any idea of the corruption before it was made public in September.
“AGI focuses on government delivery – this is what we mean by governance,” he said in a statement.
“Our role is not political. We work on building the systems and structures to support better policy delivery. Like any other charity or organisation working on technical support, we are not party to everything that happens within the governments we work with.”
Blair set up his African charity after leaving Downing Street in 2007. It offers governance advice to seven African countries including oil-rich Nigeria and Rwanda. – Nyasa Times.