The Blantyre Senior Resident Magistrate’s Court yesterday started hearing the Immigration Department procurement contracts case against businessperson Abdul Karim Batatawala and three others with the State parading two of its 16 witnesses.
Batatawala is facing trial alongside former Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services chief immigration officer Elvis Thodi, the department’s commissioner responsible for operations Fletcher Nyirenda and deputy director Limbani Chawinga.
During examination-in-chief by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general Martha Chizuma, the State’s first witness Ernest Mbaluko, who is the department’s superintendent responsible for human resource, gave the court a background on the recruitment and promotion of the three of the suspects at Immigration.
He told the court that at the time of the alleged crime, the department’s research and planning unit was operational and was headed by Nyirenda with Chawinga as his deputy.
But during cross-examination, defence lawyers argued that the department’s research and planning unit was not legally established and that anything to do with budgeting as well as procurement was done by the accounts department.
In response, Mbaluko insisted that the department was still running at the time the alleged crime took place despite that it was not legally established. He said it worked in collaboration with other departments, including the accounts department.
The State’s second witness, procurement specialist Edward Jeke, told the court that based on procurement documents he checked in court and were tendered as evidence, there were anomalies such that the contract was supposed to be rendered null and void.
Responding to questions in examination-in-chief by Chizuma, the second witness told the court that a decision by the department to extend the contract with African Commercial Agency by adding more quantities was erroneous. He pointed out that based on procurement principles, it meant a whole new contract which would have required competitive bidding processes.
He said: “Well, I am not a lawyer and I don’t think it’s wrong for people to agree on wrong things. But when the right things emerge, the wrong things fall off. Government could have avoided this,” he told the court.
During cross-examination, one of the defence lawyers, Alexious Nampota, quizzed Jere why the procurement processes, including the contract itself, were erroneous when there was a ‘no-objection’ by the Office of the Director of Public Procurement and that no official was arrested after being found at fault.
In his response, Jeke told the court that it would be difficult for any errors to be detected at any level if concealed properly. He said such errors would be discovered during a Post Procurement Review.
But Nampota argued that there was no inducement towards the accused persons as all due processes were followed, including the department approaching African Commercial Agency as required by a restricted tendering process, as such, there should be no corruption element involved. However, the witness declined.
Jeke said when the department approached African Commercial Agency for the supply contract, the company was supposed to submit bids and not quotations as per the restricted tendering process.
The court adjourned for a five-minute break as the defence wanted to present an original document to Jeke because the one they were using was not clear. But after the adjournment, the defence asked for another adjournment due to engagements the lawyers need to attend to.
Senior resident magistrate Martin Chipofya has since adjourned the matter to week beginning May 17 2022 to May 20 2022.
ACB arrested the four in December last year in relation to suspected corrupt practices in the procurement of contracts for uniforms and other accessories at the immigration department.
The suspects are accused of conspiracy to defraud by inflating the market price of 500 lockers procured by the department from Africa Commercial Agency under contract number IM/01/85 dated March 22 2010 valued at K2 950 560 per unit price totalling K1 475 280 000.