Chimwemwe Lusungu was one of the first beneficiaries of Malawi’s much-touted economic miracle, a large-scale national programme which subsidises agriculture inputs, mainly fertilisers and seed for maize production.
Within five years, her maize yields doubled and her life changed: she had enough to feed her six children and surplus to sell. But now the 45-year-old widow from Lilongwe has neither maize to feed her family nor cash to buy food or pay other vital expenses such as school fees.
“I was struck out from the list of beneficiaries because I was told that government didn’t buy enough fertiliser to distribute to everyone as per usual,” she said when asked why she could not get fertiliser last year.
Lusungu blames her situation on “Cashgate”—a corruption scandal in which senior public officers, bankers and businessmen allegedly siphoned an estimated 6.1 billion kwacha ($15.5m) from government coffers, according to Baker Tilly, the British audit firm hired by former President Joyce Banda to investigate the stealing of public funds.
New information has emerged about how Madonna’s handlers covered-up how the Kabbalah International Center used poor Malawian children as a fundraising tool, mismanaged their funds and shifted blame on the managers of the failed school project
Phillippe Van Den Bossche was Executive Director of Raising Malawi, Madonna’s charity and Dr Anjimile Oponyo was the head of the planned Academy for Girls. They both wereaccused of malfeasance in a report done by Trevor Neilson’s Global Philanthropy Group
But as I find out, it was all lies perpetrated by Neilson’s report to shift blame to helpless Malawians and distance Madonna and the Kabbalah Centre from the Malawi blow-up.
Neilson is a powerful PR consultant who has worked with political leaders like President Bill Clinton and billionaires namely; Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson among others. He has extensive experience in addressing global and domestic challenges ranging from disease to poverty in Africa.
This is the reason Madonna hired him to use his enormous experience and do a Public Relations facelift after she failed to build the $15 million girls’ academy she had promised Malawian girls, who want better free schools that successive corrupt governments have failed to offer.
Madonna’s decision to entrust the California based Kabbalah International Center with funds to build the $15 million girls’ academy in Malawi, may have been the reason why the school project flopped in the southern African nation.
The Kabbalah Centre has been controlled by the Berg family for more than 40 years and has grown into an international organization that has attracted celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Gwyneth Paltrow and may have assets of $260 million, say US media
In April 2011, a Newsweek investigation exposed the lavish lifestyles of the Berg family and linked the Kabbalah International Center to schemes that defrauded people and businesses out of great sums of monies.
On April 6, 2009, US pop star Madonna braved the scorching sun and laid a foundation stone for the $15 million girls’ school in the rust-coloured dirt of a sprawling piece of land in Chinkhota Village – about 15 kilometers outside Lilongwe – the capital of Malawi.
Forced out of their ancestry farm land to pave way for Madonna’s school, the angry villagers calmed down and joined international journalists , government officials, to witness the pop star lay the ceremonial first brick, good news in the southern African nation where only 27 percent of girls attend secondary school.
“I grew up as a poor girl with my mother… I had no chance for good education,” the emotional Madonna said as she put down the brick with an inscription: “Dare to Dream.”
Her remarks resonated so well with many Malawian girls who believed in her and saw the school academy as a chance to live their dreams.
On Tuesday, October 7, 2014, Mrs Treza Namathanga Senzani, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism was given a nine months custodial sentence on theft charges and three years for money laundering.
Mrs Senzani became the first cash-gate suspect to be jailed.She was among the many accused of exploiting a loophole in the government’s payment system – the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS) in which billions were stolen.
In addition to the cash-gate transactions, Baker Tilly, the British bean counters found that payments without supporting documents accounted for an additional K4 billion and supply contracts that had been inflated by K3.6 billion.
According to Baker Tilly, the government was defrauded of about $32m, almost 1 percent of Malawi’s annual GDP, in the six months between April and September 2013.
More arrests in the cashgate scam are in the offing as the new administration steps up investigations to get to the main players and beneficiaries, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale disclosed, warning that no one will be spared if found to have participated in the looting of public funds.
Kaphale, who lauded the former administration for building the foundation to fight cashgate, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters that “there is renewed political will to make more arrests, focus on assets recovery to recover the proceeds of the crime.”