Government has reportedly signed multi-billion kwacha deals with local and international contractors but the Attorney General’s (AG) office, which is supposed to vet such contracts, was bypassed.
According to our sources at Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, the signing of the MoUs and contracts behind the back of AG Kalekeni Kaphale, has angered him.
Soon after the Malawi Investment Forum (MIF) last October, some companies signed memorandum of understandings (MoUs) and contracts with government.
The AG’s office, as per procedure and legal requirement, is supposed to vet all government contracts to ensure they are in line with relevant legal instruments, according to our source at Ministry of Agriculture.
“The AG is not amused with us (Ministry of Agriculture) and he has queried us on this in writing and proposed a meeting with us. His concern is who vetted some of the contracts we have signed.
“Our understanding is that he is worried if we ever paid attention to legal instruments such as Public Procurement Act and Public Finance Management Act, his office is mandated to work on legal aspects surrounding these multi-billion kwacha contracts,” the source said.
The source disclosed that the AG raised the concerns in December, but so far, no meeting has taken place.
Another source at Ministry of Finance said the ministry was in a dilemma to respond to Kaphale’s letter, and to rework contracts already signed, adding that the AG’s query has taken officials responsible off balance.
The source said: “Even cancellation of such contracts do not seem to be an option, someone would obviously look stupid and issues of dragging government to court over breach of contract cannot be ruled out.”
Kaphale, in an interview on Thursday, admitted his office has been bypassed in the signing of some multi-billion kwacha contracts but said discussing such issues in public now in finer detail would be premature.
However, the AG, said he called for a meeting to do a legal due diligence with concerned ministries, including Treasury, adding that the meeting was yet to be convened.
“We were to consider if all laws impacting the procurement of the contracts had been followed or if no contracts were yet in place to remind each other of laws that need to be followed, that include issues of the Public Procurement Act, among others,” Kaphale said.
When asked about the anomaly, Treasury spokesperson Alfred Kutengule, said Ministry of Finance sometimes cross-checks local payments that ministries, government departments and agencies make from the national budget.
Kutengule, however, admitted that sometimes these payments are made or contracts signed without Treasury’s involvement or approval from the AG’s office, which he said is unacceptable.
On the letter by the AG, calling for the meeting, Kutengule said Secretary to Treasury Ronald Mangani was better placed to know if there was such a communication. Mangani was reportedly busy in meetings.
When contacted on Friday, Secretary for Ministry of Agriculture Erica Maganga said she was at a funeral and would only be able to respond to our questionnaire e-mailed to her on Monday.
Ministry of Industry and Trade spokesperson Wiskes Mkombezi, whose ministry oversees and manages activities of Malawi Investment Trade Centre, said in an interview on Friday it was not within their mandate to ensure legal issues are followed before MoUs and contracts are signed by ministries, departments and agencies.
End January, and similar to the concern raised by the AG of signing MoUs or contracts without his knowledge, Mangani told a joint committee of Parliament probing the deal in which Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) sought to buy maize from Zambia that Admarc breached the trust of Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) by signing contracts with two Zambian companies without their knowledge and blessings.n