Since news broke that $13 million was in the course of being shared between some Malawian and Zambian officials in a maize deal that has made us forget our pockets are empty and electricity blackouts, the culmination of the eight week hullabaloo was to hear from the man at the centre of it all: Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda.
In the past weeks, Chaponda has used several platforms to tell his side of the story, including Facebook when his detractors probably imagined he was not social media savvy.
He has spoken via press releases, which we all hope he paid for himself, but has not been heard. All hope to squeeze a confession out of the geriatric with presidential ambitions rested with the joint committee of Parliament tasked to dig for truth.
The committee which is spending millions and has crossed borders to get to the bottom of who attempted to steal that $13 million never mind that judgement had already been passed on Chaponda and Chaponda alone.
The committee comprising able politicians and orators was billed to be the one that would support the judgement already passed on the minister.
That was too much to expect from the committee which has so far absorbed lies and inconsistencies peddled before it like a sponge. Chaponda came prepared, he saw the performance of previous individuals summoned before it and executed his plan to conquer the committee.
After four hours of Chaponda repeating his press release diatribe, a question cropped up: Is he really at the centre of this whole malefic deal? After the Zambian sojourn of the committee, still facts were not laid bare before Chaponda enough to make him stutter. On several occasions, he actually chuckled. He was in top form and he knew it.
Chaponda told the committee that maize suppliers wanted to use his position to supply maize to the government, but did they succeed? The committee which should have provided proof that this was the case with Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF) and Kaloswe Commuter and Courier Limited before that did not materialise.
The Transglobe Produce Exports angle has fallen flat, at least before the committee. With a chuckle which could be correctly mistaken for arrogance, Chaponda seemed to have convinced them that he was not involved in identifying either Kaloswe or ZCF and these companies have not linked him to the contracts. Not yet.
After the Chaponda appearance before the committee questions remain. Who supplied what and who did not supply? But it is a fact that there is less than 5 000 MT from ZCF which Admarc will pay for.
Office of the Director of Public Procurement was clearly complicit in ‘breaking the doors’ as was PTA Bank, Kaloswe and even ZCF, but the committee did as it has been doing, took what they learnt across the border as gospel truth and Chaponda did not hesitate but to call them out on it. All because it was hearsay not backed by concrete evidence.
But after his brilliant display, if smart responses to questions can be called that, the minister made a careless and very arrogant remark very much expected of him.
At the nudging of the members of the committee, Chaponda ‘frankly’ said the inquiry was a waste of time and money, resources which he said could be used for other purposes. Buying maize from Zambia, perhaps.
At the end of four hours of talk and Chaponda successfully dodging questions about his incompetence for watching Admarc make a mess out of the maize procurement deal, Chaponda told the nation what he thought of President Peter Mutharika’s commission of inquiry: a useless venture instituted to waste public money and time of a judge and prominent people in Malawi.
Blustering apology and withdrawal of the remarks aside, Chaponda’s statement is food for thought for President Mutharika. If his right hand man thinks that way about commissions of inquiries, what more the ordinary Malawian? n