It has transpired that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) was, last year, prevented by the Attorney General (AG)’s office from commencing investigations into the K53 billion claims by two of businessman Abdul Karim Batatawala’s companies.
The two companies— Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company— who entered into contracts for the supply of uniforms to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services are claiming from the Government of Malawi the sum of K53 billion out of an initial contract sum of K9 billion.
In an emailed response on Friday, ACB Principal Public Relations Officer Egritta Ndala said the bureau had received communication from the former AG Kalekeni Kaphale’s office that the matter of oversupply of uniform contracts would be going for an out-of-court settlement.
“The office of the Attorney General, on March 4, 2020, wrote the bureau advising it to pend further action on the matter as the two parties were negotiating to settle the matter out of court. As a bureau, we took it that the matter would be settled in that way. It was only later on that the same office of the Attorney General wrote us to look into the matter,” Ndala says.
However, last week, Kaphale distanced himself from any attempts to settle the matter out of court.
‘This claim was not being contested at the time I left government. There was no way that it could be settled out of court because it was a complex matter involving procurement issues,” Kaphale is quoted as saying.
Batatawala’s lawyers wrote the AG’s office on June 7 2021 on the issue of an out-of-court settlement but current AG Chikosa Silungwe— who describes the claim as dubious— has vowed to defend the matter in court.
In March, Silungwe wrote the ACB asking it to take up the matter for investigation as he had noted several anomalies in the awarding of the said contracts. Ndala has, meanwhile, said the probe is making headway.
‘There is progress on the matter. The ACB did not continue conducting investigations after realising that the same matter was also being investigated by the Fiscal Police. The bureau was of the view that it is not good practice for two government law enforcement agencies to be conducting independent investigations on a similar matter,” she added.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Gift Trapence Tuesday called on ACB to be vigilant to ensure that government money is protected.
In his letter to the ACB, Silungwe noted that the contracts— which he described as “suspicious”— between the companies and the Immigration Department were not duly approved by the Secretary to the Treasury, among other government regulatory institutions.