A conviction against two principal secretaries (PSs) has been rescinded by the High Court in Lilongwe following an application by their lawyer Chancy Gondwe to set aside proceedings for procedural irregularities.
PS for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Grey Nyandule Phiri and Secretary to the Treasury Cliff Chiunda were found guilty for disrespecting a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal order in relation to the procurement and disposal of farm equipment bought with a $50 million (about K37 billion) loan from India in 2011.
High Court judge Charles Mkandawire convicted the two senior public officers but spared them a prison sentence after their lawyer asked the court for stay pending hearing of their side before sentencing them to prison, made to pay a fine or given a suspended sentence depending on the mitigating factors.
Justice Mkandawire said on Wednesday in his determination that “in line with the spirit of doing substantial justice” the two PSs will be given an opportunity to be heard before making a fresh determination.
He said “hurried justice can., at times, lead to denied justice.”
The case followed the Ombudsman’s application in the wake of a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ruling of February 11 2019 for the two public officers to issue a public “apology for buying equipment that was archaic and sitting idle and deteriorating, thus, unnecessarily indebting Malawians and for the illegal selling of the tractors”.
While Nyandule-Phiri published a public apology once on July 12 2019 “for buying equipment that was archaic and sitting idle and deteriorating, thus unnecessarily indebting Malawians and for the illegal selling of the tractors”, Chiunda did not.
The farm equipment was purchased using part of the $50 million line of credit from Export-Import Bank of India with the intention to mechanise agriculture in the country.
The farm machinery in question included 100 tractors and 144 maize shellers. In total, 177 tractors were bought for distribution to agriculture development divisions (ADDs) to enable poor smallholder farmers graduate to mechanisation by hiring the equipment. However, only 77 tractors were distributed to ADDs while 100 were sold.