Speaker Richard Msowoya yesterday ruled that DPP members of Parliament (MPs) should consult President Peter Mutharika on whether Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda should continue being Leader of the House.
Msowoya’s ruling followed uproar by most opposition MPs who came up with a series of points of order, demanding that Chaponda should not be reinstated as Leader of the House and that he should also be removed from the House. Other MPs suggested that embattled Chaponda should also resign as a minister.
The outcry followed the release of a report by a commission of inquiry President Peter Mutharika appointed to probe how Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) imported maize from Zambia.
In the report presented to Mutharika on Saturday, the commission recommended that Chaponda should be investigated further by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) over a conduct that was “most inappropriate, suspicious and raising issues of corrupt practices” in Malawi’s questionable importation of relief maize from the neighbouring country.
“There is no legal basis to stop someone from executing their duties, but it rests on moral issues rather than legal. It is up to the appointing authority or the individual, himself, to excuse themselves. Therefore, I am suspending the House to pave the way for further consultations on what needs to be done,” announced the Speaker later.
Msowoya added that he had no authority to ask Chaponda to walk out of the House nor stop him from executing his duties as Leader of the House.
The Speaker was at that time responding to Leader of the Opposition Lazarus Chakwera, who stood on a point of order, saying the House could not be led by someone who was involved in illegal maize dealings.
“We cannot accept to be led by someone who is being interrogated on the maize scam, if we are to continue, we would want interim Leader of the House, Nankhumwa, to be in charge,” he said, attracting applause from several MPs who later fought for an opportunity to express their concerns on Chaponda’s reinstatement.
People’s Party leader Uladi Mussa questioned Mutharika’s decision to have a commission of inquiry whose findings cannot be acted upon.
He said it was a total waste of time and money to have Chaponda back in the House when the commission said his dealings must be investigated.
“The commission of inquiry appointed by the President found that man’s dealings with Transglobe [were] suspicious. Why should that man come in the House?” Mussa queried.
In his response, Msowoya said Chaponda has not been found guilty of any crime and, therefore, is a free man.
In an interview, Chaponda said he has not been found guilty of any crime and, therefore, cannot resign from any post.
“In fact, the Supreme Court did not find me guilty of any charge and has reinstated me in my ministerial post. So, why should I resign? But we will discuss the matter further with the President and come to a conclusion,” he said.
Earlier, Parliament started late after the Speaker demanded that the Order Paper be changed to reflect Chaponda’s reinstatement.
Commenting on the development, socio-economic commentator Emily Mkamanga said the MPs are justified to demand only high standards from their Leader in the House.
“It seems this Maizegate has opened many people’s eyes and their resolve that the leaders must exhibit high moral and professional sides. From now onwards, I don’t think public leaders will display questionable characters anyhow. They will be aware that people are watching them closely and they need to be accountable at all times,” she added.
Commenting on the issue, Chancellor College political scientist Boniface Dulani said the credibility of the Legislature is being thrown into the mud if such leadership will be entertained as the report clearly says Chaponda’s dealings on the maize issue was suspicious.
“Despite that there’s no legal basis for Chaponda to resign, but I think they are called honourables for something and the honourable thing is for him to resign. He can just excuse himself honourably. Even as a party, the reputation of the party being projected is not good as well as that of the President and simply because of one person,” he said.
As one way of showing solidarity, chairperson of Parliamentary women caucus, Jessie Kabwila refused to present a report demanding that Chaponda exits the house.
Explaining the MCP stance on the matter, deputy secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka stressed that the President has made a hasty move by reinstating Chaponda even before he is finally probed and cleared by the ACB.
“I think it is a question of morality. The law may not touch Chaponda [as a guilty person] yet. But to reinstate him as Leader of the House? What message are we sending to Malawians?” he decried.