In an email accidentally sent to The Daily Telegraph, Eric Ichikowitz, executive director of Paramount Group, Africa’s largest private defence and aerospace firm, instructs that Mrs Banda only give face-to-face interviews, adding that telephone interviews “send the wrong message”.
Earlier this month, as donors announced they were cutting direct aid to Malawi and the IMF recommended that the impoverished country slash its budget and prioritise social spending, Mrs Banda commissioned seven interceptor boats from Paramount which will be fitted with arms to patrol Lake Malawi.
Mrs Banda has also committed to paying for Paramount to provide training and maintenance for the boats over the next five years, as well as potentially buying other, larger boats from the company, it said.
As well as taking orders for military hardware, Mr Ichikowitz, through a private equity firm called Trans Africa Capital, is also understood to have signed agriculture and fuel contracts with Malawi’s government. A family foundation set up by Mr Ichikowitz and his brother Ivor, Paramount’s executive chairman, is running the government’s public relations operation.
Bell Pottinger, the London PR firm leading the operation to instil confident in western taxpayers and politicians about Mrs Banda’s ability to tackle corruption, already counts Paramount and its associated companies, among its key clients.
Both Mrs Banda and Bell Pottinger this week refused to say who was paying for its services, but insisted the Malawian taxpayer will not be charged.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph this week, arranged by Bell Pottinger, Mrs Banda said “friends positioned those people to come and talk to me”.
“It’s neither here nor there who they are or who pays them – what is important is for me to send our story out to the international community,” she said.
Mrs Banda also defended the buying of military equipment at a time when Malawian doctors and nurses were threatening to strike over non-payment and a lack of basic drugs and equipment.
She said that not only did Malawi need to reinforce its “porous” border, but it was facing an “invasion” by Tanzania because of a row over the ownership of Lake Malawi, where a British firm is currently prospecting for oil.
“It is the human trafficking and the illegal entry that is paramount for me – for the people of Malawi it is the boundary and feeling vulnerable that our army is vulnerable and not well-equipped to face anything and protect Malawians,” she said.
“Buying of equipment for the army to us is a must and it is a priority.”
She said she had approached the donor community, which already provides 40 per cent of funding for Malawi’s budget in areas such as health, education and agriculture, for help in buying the ships but had been rebuffed.
“They were prepared to buy medicines so because we were sure that medicine was going to be provided for, I looked at the issue of piracy, illegal entry and our security,” she said.
“Funding for medicine has now been withdrawn, it’s part of the donor funding they delayed.”
On Thursday, Mr Ichikowitz responded to enquiries from the Telegraph to confirm that he was paying for Bell Pottinger, through the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which was set up in 2010 and is described as a “philanthropic organisation concerned with improving education, the environment and human rights in southern Africa”.
“The Family Foundation believes that President Banda is a force for good in Malawi and that she is striving to improve the lives of all Malawians,” Mr Ichikowitz said.
“It is keen for her efforts to be duly recognised by the international community and fairly represented in the international media.
He added: “There is absolutely no relationship between contracts undertaken by Paramount Group and its companies and any charitable work undertaken by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation.”
Alex Vines, from the Chatham House think tank, said the influence being exerted by Mr Ichikowitz and his companies was “worrying” but that Mrs Banda had probably not been aware of the link.
He said the president’s intention was to reward the military, which backed her ascension to power when her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika died and she faced a potential coup led by his brother.
“That’s the key issue here, to shore up that support in the run-up to next year’s elections, the result of which is now much less predictable than it was,” he said.
Sir Malcolm Bruce, chair of the UK’s International Development Select Committee, which recommended that direct aid be resumed after Mrs Banda came to power, said her apparent spending priorities were “concerning”.
“Joyce Banda has to be very careful that by going down that lane she does not finish up undermining the much more fundamental partnerships with donors,” he said.
“Donors will not be keen on supporting military expenditure and if she is diverting resources to it, it will not just mean that she will not get budgetary support now but it may mean that all future support is reviewed.”
Andrew Feinstein, a former MP with South Africa’s ANC and author of “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade”, said defence companies typically gain a foothold in developing countries by offering a range of other services through associated companies.
“It is totally unethical because defence companies then start influencing aspects of governments’ policy-making and because of their own corporate governance and the nature of the trade they operate in, the kind of advice they give is likely to be deeply problematic,” he said.
“If you look at foreign policy for example, they are going to promote policy that will fit with their industry, and that is weapons.”
South Africa-based Paramount Group specialises in manufacturing armoured vehicles as well as selling off surplus South African military equipment from the apartheid years.
The Ichikowitz family is no stranger to controversy, with Paramount’s chair Ivor Ichikowitz implicated in the controversial Oil-for-Food programme in the aftermath of the Gulf War, and in violating arms control rules in exports to several countries, including Angola and Ghana
Source: Daily Telegraph