2 Principal Secretaries plead not guilty in tractor-gate case
Secretary for Treasury Cliff Chiunda and Secretary for Agriculture and Irrigation and Water Development, Grey Nyandule Phiri, Monday denied disobeying the Supreme Court order which demanded a public apology within 60 days for buying equipment that was archaic and sitting idle and illegal selling of the tractors.
When the two appeared before Justice Charles Mkandawire, they attributed the delay to publish their apology to financial constraints.
During cross-examination, Chiunda while pushing the matter to the government legal adviser, Office of the Attorney General (AG), he emphasised that the government system had no money to fund the adverts of the apology in the local press.
“We did not have enough funds to publish the apology. It was very difficult for us. We had to wait for the new financial year to come and procurement process also delayed. We could not also cut corners but follow procedures to put such advert,” he said
Nyandule Phiri, on his part, said he liaised with the office of AG after receiving a letter from the Ombudsman office reminding them of the court order before the due date had elapsed.
“These are legal matter and I was in touch with [the] government legal adviser. I sent a draft apology for vetting which they did. I did not act because she had warned us of the contempt of the court,” he said.
Chiunda and Nyandule Phiri admitted to have not responded directly to Ombudsman Martha Chizuma’s reminder and the court to understand the challenges they were facing to comply with the order.
But Justice Mkandawire questioned why the two did not attach any document or memo to support their evidence that they wrote the AG on the matter as per government operations.
In her cross-examination, Chizuma, an applicant in the case, said despite the two controlling officers issuing an apology, they did not comply with the court order which demanded them to do so within 60 days.
She said failure by the two controlling officers to adhere to the court order breached the Constitution, undermined the dignity of the court and put the relevance of the Ombudsman’s office into question.
“The country is governed by laws and I believe as an Ombudsman that there will be anarchy if everyone is not abiding by the law or abides whenever they feel like,” she said.
Lawyer for the two controlling officers, Chancy Gondwe asked Chizuma to confirm that by the time the report was instituted Chiunda and Nyandule Phiri were not controlling officers.
“[The] government is a continuing entity and its operations do not stop. The two had assumed their roles when the court was delivering its order. By virtue of holding the positions, they were bound to comply with the order,” she responded.
The Supreme Court made the order on February 11 2019 for the two officers to apologise to the public by May 10 2019.
The two were convicted in July 2019 for contempt of court in relation to the flawed procurement and disposal of farm equipment which cost the government $50 million (K137, billion) loan from Export-Import Bank of India.