Three tobacco associations have applied for a judicial review at the High Court in Lilongwe against a decision by the Tobacco Commission (TC) to ‘abruptly’ change the system of transporting tobacco to the selling floors.
The three, namely Phindu Tobacco Growers, Farm Produce and Marketing Association and Mchikumbe Smallholder Farmers Association are also seeking an injunction restraining TC from implementing its decision.
According to court documents filed through lawyer Wapona Kita of Kita and Company dated April 8 2021, the associations are not amused with the decision by TC to direct that tobacco deliveries to the auction floors for the 2021 marketing season will be done by tobacco buyers on contracted tobacco and by growers’ associations on non-contracted tobacco.
In a sworn statement supporting the application for judicial review and an injunction, Phindu Tobacco Association managing director Abel Kumwenda argues that the three claimants are duly recognised and operating under Part Eight of the Tobacco Industry Act of 2019 and that each of the claimant has over 5 000 farmers operating under them as required by Section 52 of the same Act.
Reads his argument in part: “During the last tobacco season, the defendant [TC] in consultation with all players in the tobacco industry agreed that deliveries of tobacco to the auction floors will be in line with the law in Sections 59 and 64 of the Tobacco Industry Act, i.e. delivery quota will be allocated to the buyer and grower.
“The allocation of delivery quota to the grower meant that the claimants would be the ones to arrange all transportation of tobacco on behalf of tobacco growers in clubs, whereas buyers would arrange all transportation of tobacco growers in estates.”
Minutes of a meeting between TC and all industry stakeholders held on March 23 2021 indicate that there was an agreement that the transportation of tobacco in the 2021 marketing season should be in a similar fashion to that of the 2020 season.
Court records show an inter partes hearing on the matter, presided over by Judge Ruth Chinangwa, was held on April 19, 2021 and the two parties are waiting for a verdict, which is expected to be delivered within 30 days from the date of hearing.
When contacted yesterday, Kumwenda declined to comment, saying his lawyer Wapona Kita was better placed to speak on the matter. However, Kita’s phone went unanswered.
But TC chief executive officer Joseph Chidanti-Malunga yesterday said briefly: “We are aware that we have been sued but we are not going to comment much as the matter is in court.”