High Court rubbishes Tractorgate scandal report: Malawi top officials off the hook

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; Throws out Ombudsman report

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.

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13 thoughts on “High Court rubbishes Tractorgate scandal report: Malawi top officials off the hook”

  1. Jelbin mk says:

    Surely the suppreme court of appeal has been given work here I can’t see this case resting. This unlearned judge is so foolish not to recognise the role of the public protetor, did she go to law school or maybe was selected through quota system? So incompetent and a very embalancement to the juducial fraternity.

  2. Ononga says:

    Judge female, ombudsman female,Juliana Lunguzi female, observations

  3. Bwanoni says:

    The courts are protecting thieves. Shame.

  4. J.B.C Atate says:

    This ruling is very retrogressive. The poor are the ultimate losers not the Office of the Ombudsman. If indeed Ombudsman, Martha Chizuma-Mwangonde, has no jurisdiction, then the provision that establishes the Office of the Ombudsman in the Constitution as well as the Ombudsman Act should be amended to give the office powers to investigate such cases. The learned judge may have goofed. With this ruling, you mean the Office of the Ombudsman should revert to labour related cases only as was the case before the current Ombudsman??? This is sad indeed. This office was beginning to be relevant and useful in a democratic society but somebody is working behind scenes to cripple it in order to perpetuate maladministration in the public sector. I suspect Fiona has been influenced by certain forces. It’s a shame.

  5. Zoona says:

    It was obvious that the Ombudsman erred. In trying to make her office relevant she runs the risk of making it very irrelevant. Remember that the disposal was approved by Cabinet. The tractors are archaic and therefore not suitable to be given to small farmers. Even those who bought them will regret. As an engineer myself i resisted the urge to acquire one because of their primitive engineering.

  6. Augustine says:

    Sometimes u question the integrity and understanding of law by our so called judges. Is Law taught at Chanco valid ? Do these law schools in Malawi up-to-date? How can a judge tell the complaint to have gone to court with the matter than the investigating institutions first? How do you go to court with the issues not investigated to compile the winnable case ? When did the court become the investigating authority? If the Ombudsman’s office is not authorized to investigate then what’s the use of spending our taxes on useless institution? If it’s remedial actions are not abiding then what’s the purpose of its existence? The Ombudsman’s office act as a public protector ,where should citizens go to seek justice in Malawi. In South Africa, they had the same argument on whether the remedial actions of the public protector are abiding and the constitution court reaffirm that. Malawian judges should go and seek education abroad. ….I can’t believe this

  7. mbuya says:

    is this going to be respected nanga chaponda maize malawi wawora to the bone it needs divine intervention soooooon the better

  8. Ngiringinde says:

    Koma ine tsopano kuno ndithawa chifukwa zikukhala ngati tapenga zimene tikuchita sitikudziwa. Makhothi, ndi anthu akuba ophwanya lamulo onse agwirizana zodana ndichilungamo. Panopa tsopano kulibenso kumene Ungapeze chilungamo m’Malawi, koma ndani wationongera Malawi abale!!!!! Dziko kungokhala akuluakulu akuba okhaokha aaaaaaah….

  9. chindere says:

    that’s a most stupid judgment by Justice Mwale. Are you trying to say the only place to express a grievance against public officers abuse of office is the court? Why then does the office of the Ombudsman exist is cases like this cannot be heard or handled by the courts? If the complainant came to the courts, the same courts would have said the complainants do not have any locus standi. Anzathu a ku South Africa ma courts have given their office of Protector(equivalent to Ombudsman) teeth and we have not heard stupid judgments like these. Ma judge enawa ali incompetent that’s why todate Leonard Kalonga has not been sentenced by this same incompetent judge

  10. CIVIL SERVANT says:

    let me get this straight, the issue has been thrown out just because the learned judge is of the view that the Ombudsman had no jurisdiction and not because of lack of material information to proceed with the issue? Have the courts been granted powers to conduct investigations now? FIONA, wadya zingati pamenepa?

  11. Apao Kugola says:

    Does Fiona Mwale understand the section of the constitution that empowers the Ombudsman? Or was Chizuma-Mwangonde too emotional in her determination on the tractorgate scam? This country seems to have no direction. We don’t work as a nation. It’s like one group wants the best for Malawi and yet another greedy lot doesn’t care whether the ship sinks or not. It’s a shame when law experts don’t have a common ground in the interpretation of the constitution and the laws of the land.

    The only lawyer that talks sense is Prof. Kanyongoro.

  12. gameover says:

    Juliana Lunguzi is too clever like a hare. Wagwana nayo game.

    1. ononga says:

      Not yet watch the space, this is the begining

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