Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has issued a public apology for the flawed procurement and disposal of archaic farm equipment initially purchased using $50 million (about K37 billion) borrowed funds in 2012.
The apology is in compliance with an order of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal after the Office of Ombudsman appealed an earlier High Court decision against the Ombudsman’s demand for a public apology.
Principal Secretary (PS) for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development alongside Secretary to the Treasury risked serving three years in jail or paying a fine if convicted of contempt of court and the court was to grant Ombudsman Martha Chizuma her wish in a case that was set for hearing today.
In the apology dated July 9 2019 and published verbatim on Page 6 of this newspaper, ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development PS Grey Nyandule-Phiri said the Ministry failed to conduct a proper needs assessment in the beneficiary institutions to guide on the equipment to be bought using the loan from the Government of India.
Reads the apology: “The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development would like to admit to have failed to conduct a proper needs assessment in the beneficiary institutions to guide what equipment should be procured using the loan.
“We were at fault, and sincerely apologise for the irregular procurement and disposal of the equipment.”
In an interview last evening, Chizuma said she was yet to see the apology and indicated that the contempt of court case will proceed today.
She said: “I need to see the apology made public first. Then, we can start talking about the case. For now, the case remains. Time has come for those in public offices to be accountable to the people.”
Earlier yesterday, Mzuzu-based Youth and Society (YAS) also wrote Attorney General (AG) Kalekeni Kaphale seeking an explanation on why the two PSs disobeyed a court ruling relating to disposal of tractors bought using public funds.
In the letter to the AG dated July 11 2019, YAS executive director Charles Kajoloweka contended that Kaphale should have been in the forefront pushing for full compliance of the directives.
In an interview after the apology, Kajoloweka argued that the PSs already defied a court order, and there is need for the AG to account for it.
In February this year, the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal backed the Ombudsman and ruled that the two public officers should 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”.
In an earlier interview, Kaphale, whose office is the chief legal adviser to the government, said the State would comply with the determination by the Ombudsman following the Ombudsman’s contempt of court charges on the two PSs.
Initially, the Attorney General had described the demand for the
apology as unreasonable and was favoured by the High Court, but the Ombudsman successfully appealed the decision.
Ruling on the appeal, the Supreme Court said the Ombudsman’s Office acted within its mandate by ordering the respective offices to comply with its order for a public apology on how they managed the procurement and disposal.
Besides the apology, the Ombudsman, in a 48-page October report titled The Present Toiling, The Future Overburdened, 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”.
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.
However, only 77 tractors were distributed to ADDs while 100 were sold.