- Opposition, analysts hit APM
- As ACB calls for patience
Too little, too late. That is how the Opposition and political commentators have welcomed President Peter Mutharika’s decision to finally fire Agriculture Minister George Chaponda a day after the ACB had pounced on his property and that of others being probed in the Zambian maize saga.
But State House has defended Mutharika’s action, arguing it demonstrates that he wants the State agents to independently carry out their investigations.
Mutharika yesterday bowed down to calls to fire Chaponda for his role in the purchase of maize in Zambia, following a search and seize exercise conducted by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) at the minister’s office and residence, those of Admarc officials and at Trans Globe Produce Export.
During the exercise, ACB confiscated files and computers while at Chaponda’s residence, officers also seized money in excess of K160 million, which they deposited with the Reserve Bank of Malawi.
However, University of Malawi political scientist Boniface Dulani told The Nation that Mutharika’s delay to eject Chaponda shows that the President is indecisive.
He said it was clear that the decision to fire Chaponda was forced on the President who would have maintained the minister if he had his way.
Dulani said the maizegate—just like Cashgate on Joyce Banda—will forever be associated with the Mutharika’s regime.
“This erodes trust on his government and on himself. He is indecisive. However, it is better late than never,” he said.
Leader of opposition Lazarus Chakwera also described as not timely Mutharika’s decision to fire Chaponda as most resources and time had already been wasted.
“It is with great concern that this is coming after destruction and loss of government assets, especially from the Ministry of Agriculture [whose offices and property were razed], which is the bedrock of the economic survival for Malawians,” he said.
Chakwera further said the executive arrogance marked in the handling of the maize saga puts into question the moral standing of the President, the Executive and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
“Malawi is for all of us and not a privileged population, therefore, it is my plea that these issues be given priority before our country goes up into an economic and permanent ruins.
“We expect the ACB, the police and the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) to work swiftly and all those officials related to the [matter] recuse themselves,” he said.
Chairperson of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Maize deal, Joseph Chidanti Malunga, also said the decision has come late, when so much has happened.
“This is a very good development, but look at what has happened before such a decision could be made.
It is rather very unfortunate. I don’t know why he delayed, or maybe he was waiting for the ACB guys, I don’t know, but it has come very late,” he said.
But presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said the firing of the minister demonstrates that the President wants the ACB to work freely with him out of the Agriculture portfolio.
“The power to decide to hire or fire a Cabinet minister rests in the President. It is up to the President to decide whether to remove Dr Chaponda and if so when.
“Secondly, the commission of inquiry recommended that ACB investigates Dr Chaponda and it has started the investigations as such the President thought it wise to relieve Dr Chaponda of his responsibilities to enable him to attend to the allegations being levelled against him,” he said
One senior adviser to the President told The Nation that the President has been saying that he would allow the agencies involved to finish their work, arguing that what happened on Tuesday was the last straw on the camel’s back as it has become clear that whatsoever happened, Chaponda might need to explain the presence of cash in his house.
“People had no basis for calling the firing of the minister until the money was found. What is clear is that the finding of the money at the minister’s house has no direct link to the Zambia maize deal investigations,” he said.
Chaponda was not available for comment as his phone could not be reached and he did not attend the afternoon session of Parliament yesterday.
Meanwhile, the ACB, has called for patience as they investigate the maize issue.
In a statement, ACB said investigations of such magnitude require enough time to ensure that the process is conducted thoroughly and in conformity to legal requirements.
Currently, there is no law that stipulates the maximum amount of money a person can keep on him, according to a Blantyre-based financial expert Jai Banda,
He, however, said authorities can use the Corrupt Practices Act if a person who is keeping large amounts of money fails to explain how he got it.
Banda also said there is no crime in keeping foreign currency provided the one who has it obtained it from a legal dealer.