Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda, who is currently on forced leave of office following an injunction granted by the High Court restraining him from performing official duties, may risk arrest, as he appears to have sneaked out to Germany on official duties.
A source at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe confirmed yesterday that the minister flew out on Thursday using a South African Airways flight at 1pm.
According to the source, Chaponda arrived at the airport without a bodyguard and in a private vehicle.
“Yes, he left yesterday (Thursday) for Germany. He was alone and was dropped at the airport by someone. He was not using his official car,” said the source.
German Ambassador Jurgen Borsch confirmed in a telephone interview that Chaponda had had a long-standing invitation from the German Government through the German Minister of Agriculture in December last year for a conference in Germany.
“I know he has received a long-standing invitation of the German Minister of Agriculture. It was extended in December, but I do not have any details,” said Borsch yesterday.
In an interview yesterday, Ms. Khadi Camara, who is German-African Business Association (Gaba) project manager for Southern and Eastern Africa, confirmed Chaponda’s arrival in Berlin.
“The Hon Minister has arrived but I don’t know anything about a meeting in the afternoon. Please contact the embassy for your enquiry,” responded Camara to a questionnaire.
When contacted over the telephone, she further confirmed Chaponda’s attendance of the meeting in Berlin and referred to his official capacity as minister.
“The minister is here for an agriculture trade fair meeting next week. We are not the organisers. We only had a meeting which is over; we are not responsible for his trade fair visit,” said Camara.
Information at the conference in Berlin indicates that there was some doubt on whether Chaponda was going to make it for the summit or not and it was specifically extended to allow for his presence.
In an earlier email addressed to participants of a roundtable discussion focusing on Malawi, Camara indicated that the meeting was rescheduled to 10pm yesterday, to allow the minister to arrive at the summit.
“We are happy to announce that the Hon. Minister of Agriculture will be in Germany after all. Since he is only arriving tomorrow morning, we have to push the meeting to 10.30am until 12.30pm, tomorrow Friday, January 20th, at our office at Friedrichstraße 206, 10969 Berlin.
“If you booked a train or flight for tomorrow already, please feel free to stay at our office with coffee and Wi-Fi until the Hon Minister arrives. Best regards and thank you for understanding,” reads the e-mail.
Meanwhile, Principal Secretary for Agriculture Erica Maganga was quizzed about Chaponda’s trip to Germany at Parliament Building in Lilongwe yesterday by the parliamentary inquiry into the manner in which Admarc procured maize from Zambia.
Maganga insisted the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) was better placed to provide details of whether the minister had travelled to Germany. She admitted to have approved and facilitated the trip but said OPC would provide more details of whether Chaponda made the trip as scheduled.
Chaponda’s trip could be in direct contravention of the High Court order granted by Justice John Chirwa restraining him from carrying out his duties until findings of a commission of inquiry into the controversial purchase of maize from Zambia are concluded.
Malawi Law Society (MLS) honorary secretary Khumbo Soko said if proved that Chaponda is on official duties, then the minister is guilty of contempt of court.
“We are not aware of the full facts and whether this is an official or an unofficial visit. But if he is purporting to be a minister on the trip, then this is clearly contempt of court,” said Soko.
Livingstonia Church and Society Programme coordinator Moses Mkandawire, whose organisation was one of the civil society groups that petitioned the courts on the injunction, in an interview said the group will once again file for court action.
“We are going to move the courts. This is the impunity we have been fighting against. This is a threat to democracy and rule of law,” said Mkandawire.
Civil rights activist Gift Trapence, who is also executive director of Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) said if it is true that the minister was on official duties, the CSOs will engage a lawyer to file a case of contempt of court against him. n