Tony Blair and his team of advisers are withdrawing from Malawi – but insist the decision has nothing to do with a corruption scandal engulfing the country
Tony Blair and his team are pulling out as official consultants to Malawi’s president amid a corruption scandal engulfing the country.
Mr Blair’s staff have been working in the office of Joyce Banda advising her on how to run the African nation. But at the end of this month, theTony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a charity set up by the former prime minister, will quit Malawi.
Mrs Banda sacked her Cabinet over the scandal while a number of senior officials and politicians have been arrested, including two members of staff working in her presidential office.
In November, the British Government froze aid payments to Malawi in response to the crisis.
A spokesman for Malawi’s president said last week that Mr Blair was withdrawing his team but insisted the events were not linked to the “Cashgate” scandal, so-called because of the large amounts of money found at the homes and in cars of public officials.
Steven Nhlane, the presidential press secretary, said the stepping back of the AGI staff was planned before the corruption scandal broke. “They haven’t withdrawn per se, the agreement was that they wind up their work here before the May elections,” he said. “This is according to plan. It’s not because of any emerging issues at all.
“The relationship between President Banda and [former] prime minister Blair is still cordial. AGI has said they are open to come back whenever invited again.”
AGI, a not-for-profit organisation, has been working closely with Mrs Banda for about 18 months but stepped up its “Malawi project” in January last year when it sent four advisers to the capital Lilongwe.
At the time a spokesman for Mr Blair said: “We continue to think it is really important to work in Malawi and we certainly do have faith in the country.”
But Mr Blair has come under fire for pleading ignorance over the scandal until it became public knowledge in September, sparked by a failed assassination of an official working in Malawi’s finance ministry – amid claims by his family that he was about to expose widespread state corruption.
There is no evidence Mrs Banda, a friend of Mr Blair and his wife Cherie, is involved in embezzlement.
Richard Bacon, a Conservative MP and member of the public accounts committee, said at the time: “This is potentially very embarrassing for Tony Blair. He needs to explain what his people were doing there. 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?”
Mr Blair’s office said AGI could not possibly be “party to everything that happens within the governments we work with”.
A spokesman for AGI said the decision to pull out had nothing to do with the corruption scandal. They said: “It is public knowledge that the AGI’s work in Malawi is due to end in early 2014. The team has been working there since July 2012 and the agreement was to support President Banda up to the presidential election in 2014.
“In the case of Malawi, the agreement with the government was always to end work early this year.”
This is thought to be the first time Mr Blair has pulled out of one of the countries he advises.
Source : Telegraph