The High Court will tomorrow decide the fate of two principal secretaries (PSs) accused of disrespecting a court order in connection to the procurement and disposal of farm equipment bought using $50 million (about K37 billion) borrowed funds.
Presiding judge Charles Mkandawire has given notice that the ruling in civil cause number 152 of 2016 between the State and the Ombudsman, in which PSs for Finance, Economic Planning and Development and Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, will be made on July 30.
The case follows the Ombudsman’s application in the wake of a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ruling of February 11 2019 for the two public officers to issue a public “apology for buying equipment that was archaic and sitting idle and deteriorating, thus, unnecessarily indebting Malawians and for the illegal selling of the tractors”.
Besides the demand for a public apology, in her 48-page report titled The Present Toiling, The Future Overburdened, the Ombudsman also recommended prosecution of the members of the internal procurement committee (IPC) and “those who presided over the sale of the farm machinery and benefited from the sale should be prosecuted in accordance with the Procurement Act”.
If found guilty, the two controlling officers risk being jailed or fined or both.
To date, only the PS for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has published a public apology on July 12 2019 “for buying equipment that was archaic and sitting idle and deteriorating, thus unnecessarily indebting Malawians and for the illegal selling of the tractors” as ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
But in an interview yesterday, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma said much as Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development published the apology, the fact remains that they did not do it as ordered. She said she believes the presiding judge will take notice of the same in his ruling.
She said: “Both Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance did not turn up [for the hearing of the case]. No reasons were given at all.
“It is true that there was an apology that the Ministry of Agriculture made on the same day, July 12 2019 when the contempt hearing was taking place. However they only did it once, for one day.
“Our directive which the Supreme Court further ordered, was that the apology should run for 21 consecutive days in both daily newspapers. Moreover it had to run for 21 consecutive days on one public and one private radio and TV, during prime time. The reason we did that was to make sure the apology reaches all Malawians.”
The farm equipment was purchased using part of the $50 million line of credit from Export-Import Bank of India with the aim of facilitating mechanisation of agriculture in the country.
The farm machinery in question included 100 tractors and 144 maize shellers. In total, 177 tractors were bought for distribution to agriculture development divisions (ADDs) to enable poor smallholder farmers graduate to mechanisation by hiring the equipment. n