The High Court in Lilongwe is this Friday scheduled to pass its verdict following a judicial review hearing where the Malawi government wants to stop the implementation of key recommendations of the Ombudsman report which among others called for the crack down on state procurement chiefs implicated in the country’s multibillion-kwacha “Tractorgate” scandal.
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 were sold for a song allegedly disguised as a routine public auction of government equipment.
Judge Fiona Mwale is expected to deliver ruling in closely watched case.
In a judicial review application at the High Court in Lilongwe, Civil Case Number 152/2016, the Attorney General is challenging report’s key recommendations on behalf of principal secretaries for ministries of Finance and Agriculture, and the National Assembly.
According to grounds for the judicial review cited in the court documents signed by State advocate Apoche Itimu, the AG says the Ombudsman—who is a respondent to the case— call for officials to apologise to the people of Malawi was unreasonable as there has been no independent assessment to verify claims that government procured archaic tractors from India.
If the High Court in Lilongwe agrees with the government, then it means it has succeeded in shielding hordes of culprits some of whom faced prosecutions while some had been ordered to publicly apologize to the nation for their acts of maladministration.
While on the other hand if the court upholds the Ombudsman report then it means, senior government officials in the Office of the President and cabinet, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance will be legally obliged to implement key remedial actions raised in the report.
The tractors and shellers were part of a $50-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 government’s move to file for a stay order to stop the implementation of key recommendations of the Ombuds report and its push for a judicial review, is largely seen as last ditch attempt to shield the named culprits.
It also means those who bought the tractors included Speaker Richard Msowoya, principal secretaries, Ben Botolo, one of the PSs named in the report, foreign affairs minister and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spin doctor Frances Kasaila; the family of former president Bingu wa Mutharika and Mulli Brothers, a controversial Malawian company with mutually beneficial ties to the DPPare likely to escape scot-free.
In its submissions, the government bashed the Ombud’scall for senior government officials to publicly apologise to the people of Malawi saying it was unreasonable claiming there was no independent assessment to verify claims by the Ombudsman’s report that government procured archaic tractors from India.
It also claimed that the Ombuds abdicated her duties saying her dictating on how the National Assembly should conducts its business in its handling of loan authorization bills was faulty.
The Ombud’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 Ombudsman 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.
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