Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda has torn apart the the Parliamentary inquiries into the controversial maize procurement from Zambia, describing it as waste of time, waste of tax payers money and lacks objectivity and credibility.
The chairperson of the joint committee presiding over the inquiry, Joseph Chidanti Malunga, said parliamentary committee, under Section 60 of the Constitution, has powers to summon anyone, including Cabinet ministers.
But Chaponda, a US trained lawyer from Yale University up to PhD level, questioned the credibility of the House probe on maizegate.
He said this towards the end of his appearance before the parliamentary inquiry after succesfully and eloquently answered all the questions.
Chaponda also played a regionalism card, saying some section of Malawians was victimising him, was treating him unfairly just because he comes from the south.
“It is unfair to say I pocketed K9.9 billion, it is unfair. This country cannot go on like this,” said Chaponda who looked and sounded emotional as the nine members of both the Agriculture and Public Accounts Committee heard him silently.
The inquiry was being covered live on Times Radio and Zodiak.
He said the joint committee was illegal because it went to Zambia without two members, Karonga Central MP Frank Mwenifumbo and Zomba Changalume MP John Chikalimba.
“This has been a waste of time, the committee is contrary to Section 154 of the Standing Orders. It lacks objectivity,” said Chaponda.
He however tonned down after chairman of joint committee Joseph Chidanti Malunga told the suspended minister that the issues he was ranting about did not come from the inquiry members.
“You should not be responding to newspaper articles or what people are saying apart from what the honourable members here are raising,” said Malunga.
Malunga told Chaponda after succesfully answering the questions eloquently, he was a disappointment at the end.
He read to Chaponda the said Standing Order 154 which showed the joint committee did not commit anything illegal in leaving behind Mwenifumbo and Chikalimba from the Zambia trip.
Malunga said the donor, Cisanet, who funded the Zambia trip said they could only fund eight members out of the 10 in the committee.
Chidanti Malunga said he balanced up the equation by taking two Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) MPs, two Malawi Congress Party (MCP) members, one United Democratic Front (UDF) MP, two Peoples Party (PP)MPs and one independent MP.
In addition, Malunga said the criteria in taking the MPs ensured he takes two MPs from the north, three from the centre and three MPs from the south.
Malunga said there was a quarum of 50 plus one.
After listening to Malunga, Chaponda withdrew his remarks but did not apologise.
He said the committee has been warm and kind to him, including vocal Rumphi east MP Kamlepo Kalua.
“I am sorry I have been emotional but the house is burning, there is an effort to break the door and save the child.
“We might have not done well in some areas because we were dealing with a crisis,” he said.
However, Dowa West MP Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi said there was no food crisis in Malawi.
“There was no house that was burning, there was no child in a burning house, there was no need to break doors, whosoever broke the doors did so with an intention,” he said.
The joint committee then welcomed Chaponda’s retraction of the attacks on the inquiry and invited him for a cup of tea.
But after making his submission, Dowa East parliamentarian Richard Chimwendo Banda informed Chaponda that ZCF told the committee in Zambia that it had enough maize to supply Admarc but they were stopped due to the inquiry into the sale.
On its way back from Zambia, the committee stopped in Chipata to appreciate the maize that ZCF said it had in supply, amounting to over 100 000 MT.
But Chaponda retorted: “If ZCF had the maize, and contract is there, ZCF would have supplied the maize by now but until the Letter of Credit expired, only 4 100 MT was delivered.”
Responding to the Transglobe query from Chimwendo Banda and why Zambian officials allegedly introduced them at State House as a potential supplier of the Malawi maize not long after the minister left, Chaponda claimed that Transglobe was desperate to sell the maize perhaps fearing that it would rot.
Chaponda schooled the committee that Transglobe could not have featured at a meeting at State House in Zambia because the date of the export license given to the company did not coincide with the date of his meeting with President Lungu.
“Transglobe said it had an export licence, but I told them they could only deal with ZCF as the identified supplier, to act as a subcontractor, this is why the supply of 50 000 metric tonnes was considered. But let me repeat, there was no handling of money. All I was interested in was ZCF supplying maize,” he said.
While agreeing that indeed he interfered in the procurement process, Chaponda said this was at the level of providing policy guidance as a ministry when he noted the danger that maize would not be supplied.
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