In this third installment of One on One with GK series, Garvey Karvei learns from former spy Agent X about challenges the NIB faced and other issues. Before that, here's a brief on intelligence agencies: The National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) was set up in 2000 at the recommendation of SADC security experts. There used to be Special Branch which later changed to Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) during the Kamuzu Banda years. In 2000 it was delinked from the Police and changed to NIB when Bakili Muluzi was in power; then to the current National Intelligence Service (NIS) under Bingu wa Mutharika. GK: In 2001/02 there was a hunger crisis, do you know anything about that?Agent X
: Yes. The drought of 2001/2 was worsened by the then Minister of Agriculture and other government officials refusal to heed advice from relevant advisors. The bureau did its part to advice the Ministry and I have said advice because the units’ role is not to get involved in policy making but advice on the pros and cons and apparent consequences and reaction from the general public.
Now the bureau’s advice was against exporting maize to Kenya and other countries in East Africa because intelligence then indicated otherwise. As NIB we advised the ministry and the relevant policy makers to stop maize exports because there was going to be a shortfall in the country. The bureau had to make its case, fighting with other ministers and advisers until Bakili bowed down and accepted publicly to say there was hunger in some regions in the country and the situation was to worsen.
Currently, you have ministers who are saying all they can to be in good books with Bingu, lying through their teeth so that they can have their bread and butter at the expense of some poor villager struggling somewhere. It was the case then as well as senior ministers were disputing the reports from the NIB, saying there was no hunger in Malawi and if you can remember even MP’s from the affected areas would say so but that’s politics for you. People put personal agendas first and the rest takes a back seat but again our role was to tell them and bring them the exact picture of the situation. It did work eventually but the unfortunate thing is that some people lost their lives.NIB’s low esteem with various InstitutionsGK: Why the NIB unpopular with government institutions?
Partly, but there was more. How much time do you have?GK: As much as you have
[Laughs] It will take us forever, I will try to be brief. Big Brother, I can say.
On a serious note, as it is with all intelligence services the world over, the NIB itself was a target from other institutions: the Police, Army, MRA, Immigration, Ministers, MP's, Churches and Opposition leaders.
As it were, they made sure that they vilified the service and portrayed it as a notorious grouping set up to torture and intimidate people. But what people never knew was that the NIB itself knew that there were people doing activities in its name but because it never had powers as the SIS or Special Branch to arrest or detain, it could only report to the police so they could arrest impersonators. Now if they didn’t take it any further, the bureau couldn’t do anything but carry on. And the fact that some of the UDF fanatics within the service still mingled with the YD's [Young Democrat’s] it didn't help either.GK: What about the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), and the Immigration Department?Agent X:
There was little room to manoeuvre for them as well. Say like the MRA, there were NIB officers assigned to every MRA office. Some were assigned officially and some were planted covertly but we had a network of well-placed sources from within the organisations. Corrupt practices were reported and with no doubt such an officer would be dealt with immediately since there would be undisputable evidence which in some cases included a full recorded conversation, pictures, written and signed documents etc.
The NIB did send fat corrupt cats within the MRA scurrying!
The same applied with the Immigration Department. NIB had officers there. There was a time we had a lot Zambians, Zimbabweans, Congolese and so forth acquiring Malawi passports through corrupt deals involving many immigration officials.
The NIB took the responsibility of vetting and verifying all applications and their authenticity. So each and every application made from like 2003 was forwarded to the NIB HQ and these application forms were distributed accordingly up to relevant district offices.
So if an applicant said they came from such a village in such an area, NIB officers would visit the said area to get evidence of who the applicant really was. A due process was followed to get that information. If the results came out positive then an issuance approval stamp from the NIB was stamped onto that application form and if it was negative, a no issuance stamp was stamped on to that application form and all the records were kept at the registry offices of the bureau.
If at all, a name appeared at an exit port that the bureau had stamped no issuance of a passport, then that person was detained and questioned by relevant officials and we would trace back the application and find the officer who issued that passport contrary the bureaus’ instructions.
And such an officer would be disciplined accordingly. Obviously, such an officer would not be a big fan of the bureau! GK: Really?Agent X:
Yes, and then we introduced this thing of collecting passports in person. GK: What was that for? You, as the NIB, must have been aware that it was expensive and punitive to innocent applicants?Agent X:
That was because the person collecting the passport had to be verified by the immigration officials when handing over the passports. A short interview would be conducted in either Chichewa or a district vernacular language and this prevented millions of illegal and fake applicants from obtaining Malawian passports.
Ordinary people of course could not see that the NIB in this regard, played a major role in controlling and maintaining the identity of the nation and the sanctity of the Malawian passport.
I think that’s enough on that lets move to the next topic, it seems I am getting over-excited (Laughs) NIB, the Third Term and MutharikaGK: The third term and open term, what was NIB’s role/part if any? Agent X:
Well, when the third term issue was on the table, NIB advised Bakili Muluzi on several occasions that people did not want him as president anymore and the whole (third term) idea had to be scrapped.
As usual, opportunist politicians; and politicians being politicians, many people in the UDF were refusing that fact. This led to a wrangle between the UDF NEC and senior members especially the late Davis Kapito and late Dumbo Lemani. These two told Bakili that the NIB was fabricating stories and kept urging him to stand for another term.
To prove itself, NIB gave Bakili hard evidence in the form of secret recordings from meetings attended by some senior members of UDF. Then and only then, did he let go. It goes without saying that he never forgave these senior members and this was evidenced by the subsequent rift (and name callings) in the UDF.
NIB’s being blunt with Muluzi and further discouraging him against the proposed open term bill - which was basically the same as third term according to the people – in a way saved the day. GK: How exactly did you manage to convince Bakili Muluzi?Agent X
: For one thing, the evidence that people were not happy with that was overwhelming. But the problem was that Bakili himself insisted on listening to the UDF diehards. One thing I would say of the NIB is the fact that the NIB was blunt and honest when it came to reports. Reports were never cooked, exaggerated or half baked.
All that was passed on to the policy makers, when in doubt, was hard hitting evidence to back the report. It really didn’t matter if Bakili would find it hard to believe that’s why I have been saying that there was neutrality in the functions of the NIB.
At least Bakili was convinced and that’s the main thing and this is when the idea of a successor cropped up and Mutharika was brought into light.GK: Why was Bingu Bakili’s option?Agent X
: Well, intelligence indicated that the people were mostly concerned with the state of the economy. Internal UDF squabbles were their own problem but to the bureau most people were concerned with how the Kwacha was fairing and how the average cost of living was rising.
Bakili Muluzi’s response was to bring in an economist, hence Bingu wa Mutharika whom he initially appointed, from the blues, as Minister of Economic Planning. Bakili had honestly believed that Bingu would sort out the economy given his wide experience and that is why he was given a chance to start working on the economy even as a minister.
Bingu was immediately assigned officers from the NIB and the head of that detail was Clement Kapalamula so as to re-establish that initial setup of having intelligence officers protecting the head of state and remove the PMF officers from the presidential security detail.
Kapalamula worked as a personal assistant to Bingu as well as chief of security up until he became President and when the late Madame Ethel came from Zimbabwe some female officers from the bureau were assigned to protect the madame as well. The drivers were from NIB, the whole security detail for the Mutharikas as a prospective head of state was from the NIB.GK: So Kapalamula has worked with Bingu for years?Agent X:
Yes, before he was president up until now when was removed and I really believe there was a reason for it. Anyway, let us not dwell on that.GK: Why not?Agent X:
It is another story, we will go into go to that if we have time, or on another day.
Anyway, what the NIB wanted to do was to accord all presidential aspirants in all general elections protection regardless of their political party. This is the case in most countries. In the US the Secret Service assigns all aspirants Secret Service Officers. In the UK you have the Mi5 personnel doing the same.
But Malawi being Malawi, this was a non-starter. Opposition leaders failed to perceive the idea as protection of a prospective head of state. Their fear was that the NIB agents would report back on their activities, sort of spying on them which proved they had doubts with the professionalism of the service. In the end only Bingu had that protection and service from the NIB.
Part 4 Monday. Read Part 2 by clicking here
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