PSs, MPs behaved ‘incompetently in Tractorgate — Court

The Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal says the  Principal Secretaries (PSs) for Finance, Agriculture and legislatlators conducted themselves in a fashion that fell below the standards expected of reasonably competent public servants in the way they dealt with the US$50 million Parliament-approved loan that was used to procure 177 tractors and other farm implements from India.

The tractors that were auctioned off to Malawi government ‘beneficiaries’ for a pittance instead of given to farmers

“While appreciating that the project concept that gave rise to the credit line would have greatly benefited the Malawian citizenry. However, the procurement was poorly implemented.

“And when officials realised that that the equipment procured was not fit for purposes of the project, they… devised a scheme to mitigate wastage and costs of the project. However, even this process too was poorly managed,”  the Court pointed out.

In a 28-page landmark judgement, the Court faulted the way the respondents treated the Ombudsman’s Tractorgate report, saying they had issues with it from the start.

On  February 11  2019   a panel of Supreme Court justices—Edward Twea, Anthony Kamanga and Lovemore Chikopa— finally ruled in favour of the Ombudsman by stating that the public protector  has jurisdiction over the matter and the directives made in the report were binding.

The tractorgate saga details the manner in which the Malawi government sold some tractors and other farm machinery to public officers and other farmers in total disregard of the country’s laws.

The scam was allegedly disguised as a routine public auction of government equipment.

“We are of the considered view that except as set out … there are no cases or institutions which are beyond the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. In practice it will of course be up to the Ombudsman to decide, for good cause, which cases and or institutions to go after. Or not,” the Court said.

The Justices also faulted the PSs for Finance and Agriculture for trying to hide behind technicalities in the Ombudsman’s report instead of trying  to right the wrongs pointed in that report.

The National Assembly also got the rebuke for trying to abdicate its own rules and procedures.

“Where they do not want to they should in our view be reminded and brought onto the narrow path. It should not matter, and they should not be be allowed to so argue, like they clearly sought to in this matter…

“That the reminder came from the Ombudsman whom they want to accuse of interfering in their internal affairs. For, like we think everyone else, the Ombudsman is interested in ensuring that the National Assembly abides by the law,” they noted.

The Tractorgate scandal revolves around the IPC’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.

Government obtained a $50 million loan (K36.7 billion) from the Export and Import Bank of India for the procurement of the machinery.

The tractors, purchased at MK38 million each, were sold for MK5.2 million each, raising a paltry MK624 million.

Titled “The Present, The Future Overburdened”, theOmbudsman’s report cites nine instances of gross maladministration by government officials.

These include the fact that the members of the IPC were conflicted.

No details are provided, but the clear implication is that they were beneficiaries of the sell-off.

Other government failures listed in the report are:

  • The manner in which the Loan Authorisation Bill needed to raise money for the tractor purchase was rushed through parliament. Former finance minister Ken Kandodo told Parliament in 2010 that the loan would be repaid over 20 years;
  • The fact that civil servants took verbal orders from the Presidency;
  • Archaic financial record-keeping at the ministry of finance; and
  • The procurement of obsolete and archaic equipment, described as “maladministration of the highest order”.

But when the report was released the Attorney General by way of Judicial review challenged the report and its findings stating that the ombudsman had no jurisdiction and also that some of the directives were unreasonable.

The High Court agreed with the Attorney General and ruled that the Ombudsman had no jurisdiction over the matter.

However, the Ombudsman, through their appointed legal counsel, Modecai Msisha,  filed 10 grounds of appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal seeking to overturn the whole ruling by the High Court which made the office and its operations redundant. Supreme Court allowed the appeal to succeed.

The Ombudsman’s report also specifically called for the prosecution of the officials who were members of the internal procurement committee (IPC) and “presided over the sale of the farm machinery and benefitted from the sale should be prosecuted in accordance with the Public Procurement Act”.

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CHIPAKAMA VILLAGE
CHIPAKAMA VILLAGE
3 years ago

La fote likati likwane umadabwa kuti zayenda bwanji…… Ombusman azikhala chonchi…….. osamasekelera zachabechabe.

Yandula
Yandula
3 years ago

Ombusman go after them all!

BigMan
BigMan
3 years ago

Name and shame the beneficiaries.

Tenzi Mzungu
Tenzi Mzungu
3 years ago

Yes I agree with you this country is full of thieves. I agree with the ombudsman that those involved should be prosecuted. The country should not repay the loan which benefitted few greedy people

On the Inside
On the Inside
3 years ago

Richard Msowoya is one of them involved in this scandal

nyalugwe
nyalugwe
3 years ago
Reply to  On the Inside

UTM has now enough thieves to crush/crash the country if, through excitement, they are elected to misgovern

Dhiren Thakrar
Dhiren Thakrar
3 years ago

Disgrace! Complete disregard to the laws due to greed by all! But this is not the last. It will still continue. The system is broken so badly that it is beyond repair. If procurement was privatised, the whole budget would balance.

Nansongole
Nansongole
3 years ago

The same hynas are campaigning to remain in power so that they can continue looting public resources. Viwanthu vvopanda mantha, manyazi ndi chisoni ndi anthu osauka. They are happy to see poor pipo begging and clapping hands and dancing for them.

nyalugwe
nyalugwe
3 years ago
Reply to  Nansongole

The other half of DPP also campaigning to rule (UTM)

Chikosa
Chikosa
3 years ago

I am tempted to say the court should have never taken up this case in the first place. This makes the court overzealous to legislate from the bench. The job of oversight has always been the the parliament’s responsibility. Bad as the activity before the court might appear nobody can be reprimanded for the action because the only real query can come from legislators. Please mps spare the court of this nonsense and do your job

mtete
mtete
3 years ago

It’s not that the MPs and PSs were incompetent. They were just bent on robbing Malawians. This has been the order of the day since DPP came on the scene.

nyalugwe
nyalugwe
3 years ago
Reply to  mtete

Since UDF part B aka DPP to came to power

Kanyimbi
Kanyimbi
3 years ago

Izi anapanga chifukwa kuba kwa boma kwakhozokera tangoganizani mpaka Attorney General kumatsutsa report osati abvomerezane ndi Ombusman kusonyeza President amasangalatsidwa nao anthu akatangale nanga monse zinamvekera muja a President olo liu limodzi la nkhani ya ma tractor.

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