Agriculture Minister Robin Lowe, Govt officials blew over K100m chasing K30bn bogus fertiliser conmen in the UK

Malawi top government officials, including Agriculture Minister Robin Lowe, Principal Secretary Sandram Maweru and state funded Richard Chikunkhuzeni, blew up to K100 millions of taxpayers’ money in the UK chasing spurious fertilizer multi-million swindlers in vain.

In a desperate attempt to recover the advance payment on the K30 billion AIP fertilizer deal, with the UK-based scammer, 12 government officials led by Agriculture Minister Robin Lowe who is President Lazarus Chakwera’s brother-in-law travelled to London in July this year to look for the fraudsters.

Lowe, Moses Kombe (MCP Organising Secretary & Strategist) and former Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zanga Zanga Chikhosi are said to have masterminded the scam which started with the replacement of officials from other tribes with the Chewa from Central Region in key positions, such as:

Ministers of Agriculture Lobin Lowe

• Principal Secretary Sadram Maweru from Dowa where Chikhosi comes from.
• Richard Chikunkuzeni from Dowa as Chief Executive Officer at Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund (SFFRFM).
• SFFRFM Board Chairperson: Marjorie Maluwa Phiri from Lilongwe.

Sources at the Agriculture ministry confided in Nyasa Times that the officials spent over K100 million for the London trip on air tickets, accommodation, and allowances from the public coffers in a failed mission to locate and recover the stolen from the crooks.

Said the source: “The minister of Agriculture and top government officials secretly travelled to London to recover the stolen money but when they got to the address of those they transacted with, they found that they moved out of the place and that the premises were now occupied by a betting shop.

The delegation comprised of the following:

• Minister of Agriculture: Lobin Lowe MP
• Principal Secretary for Agriculture: Sandram Maweru
• SFFRFM Chief Executive Officer: Richard Chikunkhuzeni
• SFFRFM Board Chairperson: Marjorie Maluwa Phiri
• SFFRFM Board Member: Alfred Kapichira Banda
• SFFRFM Board Member: Alice Ntodwa Mwale
• SFFRFM Accountant: Watson Chirambo
• Agriculture Minister Personal Assistant & PRO: Gracian Lungu
• Assistant Budget Director (Ministry of Finance): Loyce Chilimsungwi

“It is really sad that Honourable Lowe and his lieutenants lied to the president about the whole saga just saying it was to sign a new AIP contract with Yara Limited, a fertilizer manufacturer in UK. They lost money belonging to the taxpayers in the first instance and as if that was not bad enough, they took more money to travel to the UK for an abortive mission,” said the source.

“President Chakwera needs to act now by sacking everyone involved in this scandal for keeping quite will not help matters. The president must get rid of any crook that surround him including those that are close to him or family because at the end of it all, he has a country to run,” added the source.

CEO, Richard Chikunkhuzeni

The Government of Malawi got duped in a multimillion fertilizer deal with a United Kingdom firm, Barkaat Foods Limited, which after pocketing part payment cancelled the contract and later deregistered.

After being hoaxed, Lowe and some top government officials hatched a plan B to import fertiliser using Nigerian broker worth 25,000 metric tonnes to have something to show and cover up the scandal.

Ecobank facilitated the Letters of Credit using a Nigerian broker who sourced fertilizer from Nitron Group Corporation of USA who after being paid a healthy deposit dispatched the cargo ship to Beira.

The plot to cover up for the UK scandal went up in flames after the ship, which arrived at Beira in August this year got stuck at the dock because the supplier is insisting on payment before handing over the consignment to Malawi Government.

Nyasa Times sources have confided that SFFRFM is incurring further costs as the ship has been refused off-loading and told to wait until end of November 2022.

But the government is struggling to pay now due to shortage of forex in the country and this means that the ship carrying about 20,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer (UREA) loaded from Nigeria to Malawi – MV CURIA is stuck at the port,” said our sources.

It is believed that some top government officials linked to Malawi Congress Party (MCP), wanted to personally benefit from procurement of fertiliser under the 2022/23 AIP hence they wanted to use shortcuts to acquire fertilizer without following proper and legal procurement procedures.

Nyasa Times investigations further discovered that the decision to procure fertiliser directly from suppliers was perhaps to maximize on the gains; be able to negotiate for a big cut which would be delivered to the party in a campaign to raise funds for 2025 elections, a move that has adversely backfired.

In this deal the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) which vets public contracts was bypassed and has since indicated that it will investigate the matter so is the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Ministry of Agriculture last week issued a statement confirming that government lost about K30 billion in a dubious fertiliser contract but could not exactly explain as to what happened or who is involved.

In the statement, issued last Thursday, Principal Secretary for Ministry of Agriculture Sandram Maweru confirmed that SFFRFM had a contract with a UK based company called Barkaat Food Limited to supply fertiliser for 2022/23 AIP program.

This company, according to statement, had a deal with the actual supplier Yala Limited UK for an initial 25, 000 metric tonnes of fertilisers and demanded commitment a fee amounting to $727,000 (K750, 000,000) to lock the price which was remitted through Eco bank.

So far, no one has been reprimanded or questioned by the powers that be or any state crime agency to establish what really happened.

Mzuzu based Centre for Democracy and Public Accountability (CDPA) in an interview said his organisation is demanding that Chakwera fire Lowe, Agriculture ministry Principal Secretary and everyone else involved in the multi million-kwacha fertilizer saga.

CDPA executive director Gift Mwenesongole said: “We are asking President Lazarus Chakwera to rise up to the clout and expel Lowe as minister of agriculture, the PS Sandram Maweru and everyone involved in this scandal pending investigations.

“The President cannot just ignore this issue and pretend that all is well. The money that was swindled belongs to Malawians.”
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence said the government must not treat this matter with kid gloves but ensure that those involved are brought to book.

Said Trapence: “As a country we should be ashamed to be embroidered in such a scandal and I implore the head of state and government of this country to act swiftly and accordingly.”

The agricultural ministry who are tasked with looking after the AIP said they engaged SFFRM to process fertilizer procurement.

According to Ministry of Agriculture, SFFRM contracted Barkaat, a middleman with a production line with Yara Limited, which is a well-known fertilizer supplier.

The contract was for 25,000 metric tonnes and Barkaat demanded an advance payment of US$727,000 to lock the price.

Trapence: Chakwera must act

When Malawi paid the money through Ecobank, Barkaat cancelled the contract saying it had lost the production line with Yara and could not commit to supply the fertilizer.

“Barkaat agreed to transfer the fee back to SFFRM through the same bank. This advance commitment fee repayment of about K750 million is under recall by Ecobank and will be received by the end of October 2022,” said Maweru.

Documents in our possession indicate that the company entrusted by government for such a huge contract was registered as a butchery, with its business focusing wholesale of meat, dairy products as well as fruits and juices.

Opposition leader Kondwani Nankhumwa has since accused President Chakwera and Lowe of casting a blind eye on the alleged missing MK30 Billion which was meant for the procurement of the AIP fertilizer.

Nankhumwa, who is Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Vice President for the South, expressed shock to note that Chakwera and Lowe are all sleeping and behaving like nothing has happened.

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Kwilanga
1 month ago

Malawi is a cursed nation. How can a whole country procure fertilizer from the street?

Nobody
Nobody
1 month ago

We need the money back, do not manhandled us from left, center right

Owen
Owen
1 month ago

Sad development

Kabambex67
Kabambex67
1 month ago

Hehehe azibambo amenewo

Nambuma Girl
Nambuma Girl
1 month ago

Nyekhweeeeeeeee.

Lesten
Lesten
1 month ago

What is wrong with chasing after the said thieves?

John Finye
John Finye
1 month ago

Lowe and Maweru, I am ashamed on your behalf. Poor country as Malawi, with no remorse, swindling from poor Malawians that much. Hats off.

Bien
1 month ago

Zitotsi za Tonse ndi MCP

Chitosi
Chitosi
1 month ago

Mukamamva kuti Nyekhwe nde ndiyimeneyi amalawi anzanga

nsabwendiimeneyitu basi.
nsabwendiimeneyitu basi.
1 month ago

Ose otiendedera zikoli mbili zao nzonunkha ,kha ophuzila ,osaphuzila ndi nyasi.
Nde poti tili ndi ulemu owaseteka basi akhalabe pamipando. Mxiiiii

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