The High Court in Lilongwe has declared as and null and void the Malawi Ombudsman report on the infamous “Tractorgate” scandal consequently sending murmurs of jubilation at Capital Hill, the seat of the Malawi government.
Judge Fiona Mwale’s verdict means state procurement chiefs who were implicated in the country’s multibillion-kwacha andfaced prosecutions and job losses can now have a heavy sigh of relief.
Mwale made the ruling following a judicial review hearing where the Malawi government wanted to stop the implementation of key recommendations of the Ombudsman report which among others called for the crack down on state procurement chiefs, the re-auditing of three lines of credit from the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) and the conditional apology of Principal Secretaries to Malawian for a raw deal.
In a brief judgement on Friday, Judge Mwale said the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma Mwangonde had no jurisdiction on the matter arguing that the complainants should have gone to Courts.
The investigation was carried out in response to two complaints lodged between April and May 2016. The first complainant was MP Juliana Lunguzi and the second was a smallholder farmer.
The MP complained about processes on acquisition and disposal ofthe farm machinery. The farmer complained about accessibility of the farm machinery.
But in taking the systematic investigation into the Tractorgate scandal the office of the Ombudsman invoked Section 123 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi which gives her powers to investigate any and all cases of alleged injustice where it does not appear that there is any remedy reasonably available in courts; and in terms of Section 5 of the Ombudsman Act.
“I am stunned by this judgement. I want to read the judgement, appreciate the grounds and then we will decide on the next course of action,” Chizuma Mwangonde told CIJM.
The infamous ‘Tractorgate’ scandal revolves around the government’s decision in 2014 to sell off 177 tractors and 144 maize shellers intended as drought relief for small farmers to civil servants for a song.
The tractors, purchased for R740 000 each, were sold for R100 000 each, raising a paltry R12-million. The scam was allegedly disguised as a routine public auction of government equipment.
Senior government officials in the Office of the President and cabinet, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance who would have been legally obliged to implement key remedial actions raised in the report can also relax and look for the next ‘gate’.
The tractors and shellers were part of a $50-million (R695-million) development scheme known as the Green Belt Initiative, which was set up to buffer millions of peasant farmers from drought.
Funded by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank), the scheme sought to put about a million hectares of farmland under irrigation and improve food security for peasant farmers, who make up 70% of Malawi’s population.
The Ombudman’s report – submitted, ironically, to the implicated parliamentary Speaker Msowoya two months ago – finds that the sale was “illegal and irregular”.
Titled “The Present, The Future Overburdened”, the report cites nine instances of gross maladministration by government officials.
Among other key recommendations, the Ombuds called for the crackdown on state procurement chiefs implicated in the country’s multibillion-kwacha “Tractorgate” scandal.
The only known person among the state procurement chiefs is the IPC chairperson, Rashid Khama Mtelela, from the Office of the President and the Cabinet.
The IPC’s members are known to have been senior civil servants drawn mainly from the president’s office and the agriculture ministry.
Many of the Tractorgate beneficiaries are also powerful individuals. The Ombud’s report implicates 68 alleged beneficiaries, including the foreign affairs minister and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spin doctor Frances Kasaila; the family of former president Bingu wa Mutharike; the Speaker of Parliament, Richard Msowoya; and President Peter Mutharika’s chief of staff, Peter Mukhito.
Also, alleged to have benefited is Mulli Brothers, a controversial Malawian company with mutually beneficial ties to the DPP.
Earlier this year Chimuza-Mwagonde told the Centre for Investigative Journalism (Malawi) that she had received death threats in connection with her investigation into large-scale graft in the Green Belt Initiative.
- The Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (CIJM) supported this story – http://www.investigative-malawi.com