The High Court in Lilongwe yesterday shifted the hearing of Principal Secretary (PS) for Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Water Development Grey Nyandule Phiri and his Treasury counterpart Cliff Chiunda to August 19.
Last week, High Court judge Charles Mkandawire found the two guilty of snubbing a court order which the Supreme Court of Appeal made for them to apologise to the public for procuring and disposing of farm equipment that was bought using about K37 billion ($50 million) of borrowed funds.
The court then set yesterday for sentencing the two, but their lawyer Chancy Gondwe asked the court to consider hearing their side on the matter before pronouncing either a custodial of noncustodial sentence against them.
Gondwe stated in an interview that Chiunda and Nyandule, who were present in court, are new office-bearers in their respective ministries and should not be held accountable for an offence that was committed by others.
He said: “The contempt of court was supposed to be served personally on the individuals affected. These principal secretaries were not affected as they were serving in other offices. So in the interest of justice, the court has allowed that the application should be heard.”
Ombudsman Martha Chizuma had applied to the court to open a contempt of court case against the two PSs for not apologising to Malawians within 21 days in line with a Supreme Court of Appeal order made in February this year.
Her office instituted investigations after a small-scale farmer in Rumphi and former parliamentarian for Dedza East, Juliana Lunguzi, lodged a complaint about the sale of farm equipment dubbed Tractorgate.
Chizuma could not be reached for comment yesterday as her phone was off. But she is on record as having said she was satisfied with the court verdict which found the two guilty of the offence.
The Tractorgate issue became controversial following the sale of the farm equipment, bought using a loan from the Government of India, were sold cheaply to high ranking officials and politicians, a move that attracted public outcry and condemnation.