University of Zambia lecturer Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa yesterday joined social media critics who took former State House press aide Dickson Jere to task after he shared a story of how former President Rupiah Banda dispatched a Zambia Air Force plane to transport a Malawian minister who was rushing to go and attend an emergency Cabinet meeting.
In congratulating the newly re-elected Malawian President Peter Mutharia, Jere remembered how, during an international trip in Turkey, president Banda offered to fly Mutharia, who was then a minister, on the presidential challenger before circumstances forced them to land in Zambia where ZAF was ordered to transport the Malawian politician home.
Below is the full statement Jere made:
A STRANDED STRANGER!
WHILE at a hotel in Turkey with my then workmate Bob Samakai, a Malawian Minister approached us. He was in distress. He wanted to get back home urgently as he was required for an emergency cabinet meeting but his connection flights to Malawi were tedious and meant he could not make it on time. He asked for a favour.
“Do you have space on your plane,” he asked in a somewhat American accent. We didn’t have space but promised to revert after consultation with the President.
We immediately narrated the story to President Rupiah Banda about the stranded Minister. He, without hesitation, asked us to remove one passenger from the presidential plane in order to accommodate the Malawian Minister.
“We shall take him straight to Lilongwe,” the President ordered.
And that is how the following morning, we had a guest on the Presidential plane, heading to Lusaka enroute to Lilongwe. We got to talk and bond with him on the plane.
However, while airborne, a misfortune occurred. The windscreen cracked and the Captain advised that once we land, we cannot take off until the problem is fixed. So he advised to change the flight plan straight to Lusaka instead of Malawi as earlier filed.
“We will find him transport to take him (the Minister) to Malawi,” the President said.
Upon arrival in Zambia, the President, as per his usual character, asked the Malawian Minister to spend a night at State House as it was late. He could not allow him to travel without having a meal at his house. Meanwhile, he ordered that his other ZAF Presidential plane should be used to fly the Minister to Malawi early in the morning. That’s how the mission was executed successfully!
Four years later, the Minister whom we gave lift became President of Malawi! At that time, President Banda was no longer President. President Banda and I were invited to visit him at Sanjika Palace and in revenge he insisted that we sleep at the Palace. And President Banda used the occasion to impact some wisdom in me.
“Imagine if we didn’t help the stranded stranger in Turkey? Would we be here?” he asked.
“Always be nice to strangers as you do not know their destiny…” the President advised.
And so that is how we met and knew the re-elected President of Malawi Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, a lawyer who spent most of his time in the USA. Congratulations Sir!
But Sishuwa wondered why Mutharika could not use a vehicle from the Malawian High Commission in Lusaka, or a connecting commercial flight to Lilongwe.
“So we spent Zambia’s public resources to help a Cabinet minister of another country get to a meeting? This was expensive on many levels. First, a Zambian delegate was left to use a commercial plane in Turkey, which meant that money had to be found for his trip. Second, a Zambia Air Force presidential plane was chartered to transport Peter Mutharika to Malawi, which meant that fuel had to be bought, among other vast expenses incurred. And Zambians were, until now, never told about this decision to dispense patronage to a ‘stranded stranger’ at the expense of taxpayers. I would like to know how the public funds that were used to transport to Zambia the nameless citizen who was abandoned in Turkey and to turn a presidential plane into a taxi service for a regional politician were accounted for,” said Sishuwa.
“Once in Lusaka, the Malawian minister would have surely commandeered a vehicle from the Malawi High Commission here in Lusaka to take him to Lilongwe. Better still, they could have put him on a commercial plane, which is only an hour and 30 minutes. Dickson Jere’s story demonstrates how Rupiah Banda may have abused discretionary public monies when he served as president. The lesson that Jere and Rupiah Banda learnt here is that public resources should be used at any opportunity for future private gain.”
Other social media users took turn condemning the abuse of public resources by the Banda administration while some praised the former president for his generosity and kindness.