When the local press ‘exposed’ the maize deal where Agricultural development and Marketing corporation (Admarc) ‘flouted procedures’ to buy 100,000 Metric Tonnes of maize from neighbouring Zambia at a whooping price of US$34 million (Approx K26 billion), everyone was livid with anger.
The press was awash with stories on how Admarc dealt with a middle man to buy the maize, dumping Kaloswe Couriers in the process and signing a contract with Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF).
In the middle of this people started asking questions on who was behind this decision and how could Admarc be so careless as to lose this kind of money.
Then booom! The then Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda was at the centre of it all, so too was the then Admarc CEO Foster Mulumbe and others.
What followed were a series of press conferences and press statements denying any wrong doing on the part of the minister and Admarc.
Because of political and public pressure, a Commission of Inquiry was instituted by President Peter Mutharika and a parrarel one was also conducted by the parliamentary committee on Agriculture.
Both inquiries recommended that the graft-busting body ACB should investigate circumstances surrounding the purchase of maize from Zambia.
The presidential inquiry ‘found out’ that Chaponda and Rashid Tayub, one of the directors at Transglobe Produce Exports were in Zambia at the same time negotiating the purchase of the maize.
The Parliamentary Committee inquiry also ‘found out’ that Transglobe had a maize export licence given by the Zambian government, so by extension, they must have been involved in corruptly purchasing maize from Zambia.
Then in February 2017, there was a screaming headline in the papers that a private commodities company, Transglobe Produce Exports had a contract with Admarc to supply 50,000 metric tonnes of maize.
It was in the same month that Chaponda’s house was searched and K166 million in both local and foreign currency was recovered. He was fired from cabinet a few days later.
Then in July, ACB arrested Chaponda together with one of the directors for Transglobe Rashid Tayub and Grain Traders Association Chairperson Grace Mijiga Mhango in what is now called the ‘Maizegate’ case.
When the case started in the Blantyre Magistrate Courts a few months later, We sat in the public gallery trying to get the gist of the story and it was where the true picture and facts of the case started coming out.
It was during this time that we all learnt that actually the 100,000 metric tonnes of maize were never delivered to Malawi but just only 4,500 metric tonnes which were paid for almost a year and some months after delivery around November 2017. Admarc contract with ZCF dates back to July 2016.
Where was the ‘Maizegate’ if Admarc was even failing to pay for the commodity a year after buying it? One wonders.
Evidence in court proved that the two were never in Zambia at the same time according to their passports.
How then was such a statement made by the Commission? One wonders.
Chaponda was charged with corruptly performing public functions, misuse of public office and possession and giving false information on foreign currency while Tayub was charged with influencing a public officer to misuse his public office.
However, evidence in court was again interesting.
Tayub’s lawyer Lusungu Gondwe asked Mulumbe to read the charge against his client and asked him if he can offer any evidence against him.
“No I cannot offer any evidence (that I was influenced to give Transglobe a contract),” said Mulumbe.
“Was there any contract between Transglobe and Admarc for maize to be supplied from Zambia?” he was asked. “No” said Mlumbe
“Was there any discussion about Zambia?”. “No” testified Mlumbe.
Mulumbe who was a key state witness also did not offer any evidence to implicate Chaponda on his abuse of office charge saying the former minister did not issue any instruction to offer a contract to Transglobe.
Investigating officer for the case from ACB told the court that Mulumbe told ACB in March 2017 that there was no contract between Admarc and Transglobe. Yet the two were arrested in July of the same year. When the same investigator was asked by lawyer for Dr Chaponda, Tamando Chokhotho if there was any basis for the arrest of his client based on the evidence tendered the response was clearly “I don’t think so”.
On the part of Chaponda, the money found in his house was said to have belonged to the ruling DPP and that Minister of Information Nicholus Dausi was supposed to come and collect it but this assertion was denied by Dausi in court.
However, testimonies from Hon Henry Mussa confirmed to the court that the ruling DPP runs decentralized structures so the mandate for handling party money rests with the VP for South, Dr Chaponda.
Chaponda may have been ‘hanged’ by a Reserve Bank of Malawi official who disputed a foreign currency license which Chaponda issued in court claiming it was given to him by the Minister if Finance in 2004.
The Reserve Bank official told the court that it’s only RBM that issues Foreign currency licences not the Minister of Finance.
However, the Minister of Finance changed his earlier statement in court and confirmed that he issued the licence to Chaponda. Ironic.
The case has raised a lot of questions on whether ACB really did its job of investigating the issues or it went with the political and public wind. Did PAC too thoroughly consider the facts through its public interviews or simply ride the wave for political mileage? Did the Commission of Enquiry assess the information it was provided or sit on the fence in the face of public opinion?
Was there ‘Maizegate’? Magistrate Paul Chiotcha will answer this question when he delivers his ruling next month.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :