Embatted Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda was on Wednesday pinned down by the joint inquiry of the committees of agriculture and public accounts of parliamentary inquiry on Maizegate, equating his role in the maize saga to a burning house which had to be broken into to save lives.
Chaponda is alleged to have played a role in the maize deal that has gone sour between Admarc and two Zambian companies —Kaloswe Commuters and Courier Limited and Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF).
The parliamentary joint committee members discovered that Chaponda met some maize suppliers, including Transglobe officials, taking himself the role of procurement officers for Admarc.
The Agriculture committee and Public Accounts Committee members put to Chaponda contradicting statements from Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF) and the minister.
ZCF told the inquiry that they had enough maize, over 100 million metric tonnes to supply to Malawi whilst Chaponda said ZCF had little maize.
He said as far as he was concerned, ZCF did not have adequate maize supply because South Africa and Zimbabwe were also in the country looking for the same maize.
Chaponda therefore said as minister, he had to do all he could to find maize so that no one died of hunger, arguing if anyone died of hunger, he could be held responsible.
“What I was doing was to save lives, I was ready to die as long as people were saved,” he said.
He said some of his actions was because the government was under pressure to get maize.
“The pressure here was to have food for 6,5 million people…You break a house which is burning to get out a child,” he said.
Chaponda, who looked composed and at times laughed off, said he was involved in the maize procurement saga at policy level, saying it was Admarc CEO and his management team and the Admarc board which was directly involvement.
The members also pinned down Chaponda on the cost of the maize, they told him that the maize which Malawi was buying at US$345 per tonne, US$180 per tonne higher on the normal market.
Chaponda then amplified his voice, saying they were told the maize was on the outskirts of Lusaka at Chipata and Katete and in addition, Zimbabwe and South Africa vendors were all over, pushing the cost of the grain higher.
Talking on the higher prices of maize in Admarc depots, at K12500 per 50kg bag, Chaponda said it was the ministry of Finance which set the prices.
He said the minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe said if the price was lower, the IMF would have expressed reservations.
So far, the inquiry has managed to expose anomalies in the way the government wanted to procure the 100 metric tonnes of the maize but it is yet to be proved how Chaponda and Admarc CEO were engaged in suspicious dealings in the procurement of the Zambia maize.
The purchase of the maize by the Malawi government was meant to salvage a hunger situation that threatened 6.5 million people at its peak late last year.
Questions have been raised as to why Admarc bought maize at a higher price across the border when it could have sourced affordably locally.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :