Amid a media storm on maize procurement by Admarc from Zambia, the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture has called for the independence of the commission of inquiry set up yesterday to probe matters surrounding the issue.
On the other hand, the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday said despite the commission having been set up by President Peter Mutharika, they still maintain that Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe and Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda should step down to pave the way for investigations.
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi yesterday said the commission, which starts its work immediately, has been given up to a month to carry out its investigations and report back its findings.
Joseph Chidanti-Malunga, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Irrigation and Food Security, which earlier pushed the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to launch an inquiry into the alleged maize scandal, expressed excitement before stressing that the worry lies on the independence of the commission.
He said: “The principle of coming up with a commission of inquiry is a brilliant one, but now how it has been set up is worrisome. We have question marks if the members are going to work professionally or not because it has been appointed by the President and they are required to report their findings to the same President.
“I think there should have been some wide consultations with members of public and the civil society organisations to see how best to come up with the commission.”
Commenting on the time frame, Chidanti-Malunga said one month is not enough because the issue is complex requiring a lot of movements. He said what is good is that the commission is starting its work immediately.
PAC of Parliament said though the commission has been set up, it could have worked well if Mulumbe and Chaponda were out of their jobs to avoid interfering with investigations.
“Because if they do not do that, it will look like a smokescreen to bluff us to think that the Executive is doing something about the issue,” PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani said.
Reacting to the development in a telephone interview, Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba, whose organisation is among the civil society organisations (CSOs) that called for action on the maize saga, said they are satisfied with the starting point.
“The starting point has been appreciated and we thank the President for listening to the people of Malawi by setting the commission.
“However, we are still advancing our agenda that it should be inclusive by incorporating members of the civil society, parliamentarians and others,” he said.
Mkwezalamba said the CSOs hope the commission will be independent, adding they are fine with the month-long timeframe as it is accommodative and within their demands.
According to a government statement, commissioners include retired Chief Justice Anastazia Msosa as chairperson and the public auditor Isaac Kayira, Solicitor General Janet Banda and Law Commission deputy chief law reform officer Mike Chinoko as secretary.
In recent weeks, pressure has been mounting on Mutharika to suspend Admarc CEO to create space for an impartial and independent probe into the Zambian maize procurement saga.
Latest to issue such demands were CSOs which have also called for the resignation of Chaponda, saying their continued stay in their positions would “jeopardise the investigations.”
The demands were issued in a statement on Sunday by the leaders of the country’s key CSOs, including Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) and Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec).
Others are Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Youth and Society (YAS) and Citizen Alliance.
Their call comes barely days after the two parliamentary committees— Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and PAC—separately made similar demands.
The ACB has also indicated that it will—in conjunction with its Zambian counterparts—investigate corrupt elements in the matter.
In the past days there has been a media storm on how Admarc allegedly handled the procurement of the purported 100 000 metric tonnes of maize from Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF).
At the core is the engagement of a privately-owned Zambian company Kaloswe Commuter and Courier Limited, which purportedly played the role of intermediary in the deal.
The Zambian company has since reportedly dragged Admarc to court for breach of contract, having already done so with the ZCF over similar charges.
Admarc reportedly paid about K26 billion, which government borrowed from Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, commonly known as PTA Bank, for the purchase of the maize which is about K9.5 billion more than the estimated K15 billion it could have paid, had it bought the maize directly from the Zambian Government. n