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Court reserves ruling on contempt of court petition

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By Rebecca Chimjeka:

High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire Friday reserved ruling on the contempt of court application by the Ombudsman against ministries of Finance and Agriculture on the order by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.

In February this year, the Malawi Supreme Court Appeal backed the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma and ruled that the two public officers should apologise to Malawians for buying and disposing of archaic equipment initially purchased using $50 million (about K37 billion) borrowed funds in 2012, a scandal dubbed Tractorgate.

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Despite the Ombudsman’s efforts to have the order be adhered to, the two ministries were never responsive forcing the Ombudsman to file for contempt of court.

The farm machinery in question included 100 tractors and 144 maize shellers.

The Ombudsman started investigating the matter in 2016 after receiving complaints from a former Dedza East member of Parliament Julian Lunguzi and a smallholder farmer from Rumphi against government on the decision to sell the tractors and maize shellers to some politicians and other commercial farmers contrary to the loan authorisation bill which was used to purchase the equipment.

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After her investigation, the Ombudsman faulted Ministry of Finance and Agriculture in the manner in which they handled the procurement and disposal of the tractors.

She further directed remedial actions to the two ministries.

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Thursday issued a public apology for the flawed procurement and disposal of the farm equipment.

However, in an interview, Chizuma said people should not simply look at the apology as the only remedy that she directed.

She said her investigation revealed that they were so many untidy bits bordering on fraud to the whole procurement and disposal of the farm equipment.

“There were others like providing full amounts of the money so far collected from the sale of the tractors and also conducting an audit of the credit line together with other two credit lines that government had used to procure the tractors and other related irrigation materials which are yet to be complied with,” Chizuma said.

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.

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