Some opposition members of Parliament (MPs) have obtained a court order stopping the sale of agro-processing machines which government bought with a $50 million (about K33.7billion) loan from the Export-Import Bank of India in 2010.
Ministry of Trade and Industry is selling the two dhal (chipere) processing plants at $1 million each (about K690 million) after they were procured in 2012.
In its justification, the ministry claimed the machines were staying idle as they were too huge to be used by One Village One Product (Ovop) small scale farmers for whom they were procured. The ministry said the disposal was to ensure the equipment retains value.
But in their application to stop the sale, Dedza East MP Juliana Lunguzi and Lilongwe South West MP Peter Chakhwantha, both affiliated to Malawi Congress Party (MCP), described the decision to sell the plants as illegal and unlawful because the equipment was not offered to the small-scale farmers or large associations like National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (Nasfam) or Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) who could put it to better use.
In their affidavits, Lunguzi and Chakhwantha asked the court to declare that the ministry should not have made the decision to sell the plants without authorisation from the National Assembly and should have first invited bids from farmer associations who had an interest when the equipment was first procured.
High Court Judge Esme Chombo granted the two MPs leave for judicial review of the matter and stopped the process of selling the machines.
She said: “The court orders that the sale of the machines to the general public, including the bidding process and announcement of successful bidder thereof, be stayed until the determination of the matter herein or a further order of the court.”
In an interview yesterday, Lunguzi said the same government had sold tractors and grain shellers obtained with a loan which Malawians would continue to pay for many years to come.
“If this trend continues, we will continue to have a huge gap of haves and have nots. Some of the people who obtained the tractors and shellers have no use for them and yet ordinary Malawians for whom the equipment was purchased are still paying back the loan,” she said.
The injunction has since been served on the Attorney General on behalf of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
In the Loan Authorisation Bill, then minister of Finance Ken Lipenga obtained the $50 million loan for financing the procurement of various goods and services, including cotton processing facilities and goods and services related to the Green Belt Initiative and One Village One Product.
The Act, which the then president Bingu wa Mutharika assented to in 2010 indicated that the loan should be used for no other purpose but that specified in the loan authorisation Bill.