Malawi civil society organisations (CSOs) and activist have applied for a judicial review from the High Court in Mzuzu and among other things asking Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda to resign over Zambian maize misprocurement saga and pave way for investigations.
The CSOs led by youth activist Charles Kajoloweka – are Mzuzu based Youth and Society and Church and Society Programme and the Lilongwe based Center for Development of People 9Cedep).
“If leave to move for judicial review is granted, then the same should operate as an interlocutory injunction restraining Chaponda from discharging his duties as a cabinet minister pending a further order of this court,” they said according to papers.
Newly appointed Judge John Chirwa is expected to make a ruling on the application on Thursday morning.
A Judicial review is a form of court proceeding in which a Judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. It is a challenge to the way in which a decision has been made.
President Peter Mutharika instituted a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the scam in which Admarc reportedly bought maize at K26 billion from the Zambian company and it is believed that Malawi could have saved about K9.5 billion if it had bought the grain directly from the Zambian government.
Former Chief Justice Anastazia Msosa is chairing the commission and other members are Solicitor General Janet Banda, Auditor Isaac Kayira and Mike Chinoko.
The use of a middleman, Kaloswe, is raising suspicion that officials may have indulged in corruption when Malawi government is on record to have said Chaponda was in discussion with the Zambian government over the maize deal, and at some point, engaged in discussions directly with Zambian President Edgar Lungu.
The NGO`s judicial review filed on Wednesday afternoon under civil cause number 01 of 2017 between: the State versus Chaponda as first respondent, the Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale as second respondent and President Mutharika as third respondent, the NGOs faults the composition of the commission of inquiry saying it is illegal.
“The decision by Mutharika to appoint … Janet Banda and Isaac Kaira, who are civil servants and therefore subordinates to the respondents…contradicts the impartiality of commissioners of inquiry as per section 7 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, Cap 18:01 of the Laws of Malawi and clear principles of natural justice and constitutionalism,” reads part of the application.
The activist want the High Court to declare as illegal Mutharika`s decision not to exercise his prerogative to suspend or remove Chaponda pending the finalization of investigations by the Commission of Inquiry saying his inaction is contrary to the spirit of the Commissions of Inquiry Act Cap 18:01 especially section 7.
They also want the High Court`s declaration on the illegality of the decision of Chaponda not to resign to pave way for investigations saying being a line cabinet minister under the ministry that is being directly investigated, it creates an appearance of bias and that Chaponda may interfere with the investigation.
The two Parliamentary Committees—Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and Public Accounts—separately made similar demands.
But Chaponda issued a statement made available to Nyasa Times, arguing his involvement in the misprocurement was minimal as State-produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe was the one in charge.
“At the outset, let me report that, my involvement was minimal as the main buyer of the maize was ADMARC and not the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. As most of you, may be aware, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development oversees the operations of some parastatals including ADMARC. While the Ministry focuses on providing policy direction and guidance, the parastatals manage day to day operational issues of their institutions and they are answerable to their Boards,” Chaponda said.
Chaponda, a strongman in Mutharika government, challenged that he will not succumb to civil society demands to resign over the matter, saying those making the calls are jealous of him.
Meanwhile, Malawi Parliamentary Committee of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has opened a parallel investigations into the ‘maizegate’ to investigate corrupt elements in the matter after noting that commission of inquiry appointed by President Peter Mutharika may just be to silence the inquisitive Malawians.
Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture chairperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the committee is doing its own investigations “to get to the bottom of the matter.”
- The Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (CIJM) supported this story.