The circus of the inquiries into the maize import deal between Malawi and Zambia has started and it is proving to be as entertaining as expected. The clowns are in the ring and the games have just begun.
The public spectacle of the inquiry by the joint committees of Public Accounts and Agriculture started on Tuesday had a display of something akin to desperation on the part of the civil society organisations (CSOs) as they attempted to explain their appearance before the committee.
The CSO members all came bearing names of organisations as dubious as the documents they presented before the committee, mostly ripped from news reports, copies of contracts with crucial pages missing, but they were presented and lapped up nonetheless by the Parliamentary committee members.
It is clear that the Parliament committees lack technical expertise to competently institute an inquiry and obtain the information required to get to the bottom of the saga that has gripped the nation these past weeks.
The committee has been working on the information obtained from the media and no prior research on international trade agreements as well as processes that govern letters of credit.
The Office of Director of Public Procurement (ODPP) for instance, Paul Taulo was like a fish out of water when the committee demanded information from him which he could not clearly articulate.
Being three days in office when the letter requesting ‘No Objection’ from him was no excuse for the confused manner in which he failed to explain decisions made by his deputies. Where there were documents scrutinised by the committee, they only came to be in their possession by the benevolence of the witnesses in the inquiry.
At no point did the committee give an indication that they were acting from an informed point of view. The line of questioning was jumbled and members scrambled for opportunities on who could speak the loudest and sound the most intelligent.
The live coverage of the inquiry has not helped matters. Some committee members were seen to be playing to the audience out there, attempting to pin the witnesses just for the sake of being seen to be tough.
The members of these committees should not be faulted. The bright lights of television are difficult to resist and the committee does need to justify their presence at the Parliament buildings and allowances for the five days they have spent in the capital city.
After two days of the enquiries, the committee lost the plot. Line of questioning became personal more than a professional query of the legitimacy of procurement of the maize deal.
The Admarc chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe seemed to be in his element and managed to confuse the lot of the committee members to the extent that temporary amnesia gripped them on several occasions.
As the hours of the interrogation of Mulumbe creeped on, objectives of the inquiry were thrown out of the window and it became a free for all exercise.
Notwithstanding that there are three such similar probes ongoing at the moment–one of which is investigating elements of criminality by the Anti-Corruption of Bureau (ACB)—this seems to be once again another exercise in futility.
The inquiries are a pointless exercise that in the end will have no effect on the overall allegations levelled by the leader of United Party in Zambia.
The politically motivated inquiry instituted by President Peter Mutharika to clear heir apparent George Chaponda is just as useless the others.
The only probe that might have a semblance of credibility and conducted professionally with results which will be publicly disseminated, through Parliament, is the ACB investigation.
If at all there was an attempt to chew $13 million excess from the purchase of the maize between several individuals across the two countries, ACB is competent enough to get to the bottom of this.
All these others are as I have described them useless exercises that are a waste of taxpayers’ money. n