Phiri suspicious citizenship
New evidence shows that politically connected businessman Simbi Phiri has a curious citizenship, writes BOBBY KABANGO.
Businessman Simbi Phiri, who is at the centre of controversy in Botswana and Malawi, has a South African passport as well as one from Malawi, INK Centre for Investigative Journalism can confirm.
Malawi does not allow its citizens to hold a passport from another country, so it will be interesting to see if the authorities in Malawi will act against the politically connected businessman who has admitted to funding politicians. Phiri obtained his Malawian passport in 2010. It is not clear when he obtained South African citizenship.
He is chairman of Khato Civils, a controversial civil engineering company on the radar of the Botswana corruption watchdog – the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime. He has identified himself as a citizen of Botswana, saying the country is a birthplace of his mother. His spokesperson, Taonga Botolo down played INK questions on Phiri dual citizenship saying any reference about Phiri’s Malawian passport is “merely guess work.”
“Phiri has never, at any point in time, claimed he holds Malawi or Botswana citizenship,” he said. However, documents seen by INK show that Phiri was issued with a Malawian Passport number MA034189 in September 22, 2010, which expires on September 21, 2020. Immigration officials in Malawi declined to comment.
It is not clear when he obtained a South African citizenship with Identity number 6303046297083. Botswana and Malawi do not allow dual citizenship.
A senior Immigration officer in Malawi who preferred anonymity said Section 6 of the country’s immigration Act prohibits dual citizenship and that offenders could be arrested and have their passport withdrawn.
“In spite of being arrested and being fined or serving jail term of 18 months, the person will be stripped of Malawi citizenship and be deported out of Malawi,” he said.
With reference to Phiri’s case, the officer said this could happen only if he fails to surrender the south African citizenship. “It is purely against the Immigration Act but I know it will be politicized [in Malawi],” noted the senior officer.
But Botolo maintained that Phiri only holds a South African citizenship. “I wish to emphasise that he holds a South African passport and that through parentage, he considers Malawi and Botswana his homes, too,” he said.
Last month, the Malawi Immigration Department arrested Kassam Nurmahomed, an Asian businessman for holding Malawian and British passports.
The Malawi government awarded Phiri’s Khato Civils a US$500 million (MK400 billion) Lilongwe-Salima water project contract which the Malawi Law Society and Mkaka Construction have objected saying the project is meant to benefit a few and does not meet standards. The project is currently suspended. In Botswana, Phiri has been linked to influence buying and corruption. Recently Group CEO of Khato Holdings, Mongezi Mnyani disclosed to a local radio station, Duma FM that Khato Civils in Botswana paid a former Minister around US$130 000 (an equivalent of P1.3 million) to fast track registration of the company with the local procurement board.
“Yes we pay for those services. It is on record…” Mnyani told Duma FM, adding that Phiri contacted an unnamed former minister who used his “administrative capabilities” to fast track the application for a permit with the Public Procurement Asset Disposal Board.
“Why not engage them?” asked Mnyani. “It is a service that we pay for.” In Botswana former ministers wield influence among civil servants and are often offered consultancy duties by sitting presidents.
Phiri also disclosed in a separate promotional newspaper advertisement that the Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Prince Maele also helped him expedite his application to Oodi sub land board for change of land use after he acquired land on the outskirts of capital Gaborone. Maele did not dispute the claim. In Malawi, Phiri told Malawi News that he has funded president Peter wa Mutharika’s governing Democratic Progressive Party as well as the main opposition grouping, and its leader, Lazarus Chakwera. “You cannot do a project in an environment without knowing the technocrats, the politicians and the community, these are stakeholders…. We have to engage,” he was quoted by Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi, as having said.