By Duncan Mlanjira
Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works, Charles Mchacha is at the centre of controversy on social media following his use of offensive and vulgar language to insult the Nation newspaper’s journalist, Bobby Kabango, who was investigating the sale of government land at Kanjedza Forest in Limbe.
The social media is awash with the recorded conversation between him and Kabango, which has attracted condemnation from all quarters of the public over the vulgar and unpalatable words used that demeaned the journalist in his quest to find out the truth.
However, Mchacha, who is Member of Parliament and is also Southern Region Governor for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), says he spoke that way to Kabango as Mchacha the person, not as a Minister or MP.
He faulted those circulating the recorded conversation as being people not wishing him well and decided to use the media to expose him over a transaction he claims was legitimately carried out between himself and the Ministry of Lands.
Towards the end of the conversation, in which Kabango had remained composed and calm, Mchacha had threatened of visiting the Nation newspaper to file a complaint.
However, Nation Publications Editor-in-Chief Ephraim Munthali says Mchacha never reported at their offices but the newspaper’s management lodged an official complaint with the Police and informed the Ministry of Information as well as Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi.
MISA Malawi president Theresa Ndanga said: “As a cabinet minister, we expected Mr. Mchacha to know better and respect the journalist’s freedom to carry out his duties.
“President Mutharika must be decisive and curb such kind of impunity. His Cabinet ministers should not be allowed to abuse their power to threaten journalists,” she said.
Mchacha said he spoke with Kabango early December last year and wonders why the issue has surfaced this time around.
He said he had tried to engage Kabango for a meeting so that he can clarify that he was not the only one who bought a plot on the land in question but over 600 others also benefited.
He said he applied for consideration to buy the land before he became an MP or minister and when it was being processed the President had not yet appointed his Cabinet.
“It was the Ministry of Lands officers who processed my request and not through Minister of Lands Symon Vuwa-Kaunda as it is being reported.
“I wanted to engage him through the process I went through. Everything was done as according to procedures.
“In the first place, why was I targeted when there are over 600 of us who bought plots on the land in question. That’s what angered me.
“Why do we Malawians pick faults amongst ourselves? Why shouldn’t I benefit from what others are benefiting? Am I different just because I am an MP or Minister?” questioned Mchacha.
In a detailed report published on Saturday February 1 in Weekend Nation, Kabango’s report was centered on Vuwa-Kaunda, that while the Minister of Lands was pouring cold water on title deeds purporting part of Livimbo School land in Lilongwe was private land last November, he had just approved sale of Forestry Department land in Blantyre to a fellow Cabinet member.
The report said according to a letter, dated October 11, 2019, which the has in possession, Vuwa-Kaunda granted Mchacha permission to buy a piece of land — Plot Number LW1366 at Limbe West (Kanjedza Forest) in Blantyre City.
And a lease document indicates that Mchacha was granted approval to lease 1.171 hectares of leasehold land for 99 years, beginning July 1, 2019 but the procedure the Ministry of Lands used when selling the land to Mchacha has raised eyebrows at the Department of Forestry to which the sold land belonged, says the report.
Kabango quotes Department of Forestry as saying the normal procedure requires the Ministry of Lands to first inform the owners of the land — in this case the Department of Forestry — of their intention to sell.
“The Ministry of Lands would have stated reasons for the planned sale,” an unnamed senior official from the Department of Lands is quoted as saying.
“For example, if the land has been idle for a long time or if the owners of the land are failing to pay ground rent. The Ministry of Lands would also have given the Department of Forestry three months’ notice.”
Documents which the Nation has in possession show that Mchacha got the land after applying for 1.2497 hectares of the said land.
“The offer letter, with reference number SR/BT/19/94, from the Regional Commissioner of Lands (South) Peter Chikweni, but signed by Vuwa-Kaunda himself, informed Mchacha that the said plot was available for him upon paying development fees of K30.5 million,” says the Nation report.
“Surprisingly, the lease document from the Minister of the Malawi Government Responsible for Land Matters which we have seen, granted Mchacha approval to lease 1.171 hectares of leasehold land for 99 years from July 1 2019 before he paid for it.
“Mchacha paid the whole amount on October 14 2019 through NBS Bank, Blantyre Service Centre, three days after the land was offered to him.”
But, as according to the Nation’s report, Minister Vuwa-Kaunda denied the claim that he signed the offer letter, saying what he signed was a document to allow Mchacha to pay the development charges in instalments.
Vuwa-Kaunda also defended Mchacha, saying the piece of land was not the only one that has been sold to individuals in the area.
Vuwa-Kaunda is quoted as saying the land in question is no longer a forest: “The forest is completely gone. There are only offices. What is happening is normal. The sale of that land started five years ago.”