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Foster Mulumbe’s disappointment

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There is no need of a commission of inquiry: Just handcuff Admarc CEO, Foster Mulumbe and throw him behind the bars while waiting for his plea of guilty in a court of law. That is the message Malawians and other stakeholders are getting from the government regarding the suspected shady deals of maize import from Zambia.

Look, while Malawians awaited a convincing position from President Peter Mutharika, the President remained quiet for two weeks then came up with a commission of inquiry to probe the issue. Later on Minister of Agriculture, George Chaponda, decided to confess his sins before being summoned by the high priestess, Anastasia Msosa, to the confession booth. But before Chaponda’s plea of innocence and call for public’s understanding and mercy, Admarc Board Chairperson, James Masumbu said management of Admarc did not brief his board on the Zambian deal.

These actions and utterances insinuate one thing: No one but Mulumbe knows what happened in this nauseating maizegate. Mulumbe might have been gullible that since he dealt with big bosses, he could bypass everyone and enjoy the protection for ever.

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But every story has three sides; what the accusers say, the position of the accused and the truth. Having heard what the accuser and the accused have said, we have to explore the truth.

The Commission of Inquiry

This has come too late and too little. It looks like the President is just trying to buy time and save the image of his administration. Why did it have to take two weeks before he weighed in? Why did the state controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation try every trick in the book to clean the soiled image of Mulumbe, if the Mutharika administration had nothing to do with it?

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One would have expected the President to use existing state organs that have the mandate of investigating and probing such suspected underhand dealings. We are talking of the Anti- Corruption Bureau although it is so useless that one cannot trust its actions, the Fiscal Police which has been central to the conviction of several Cashgate suspects, the Financial Intelligence Unit despite having an enabling Act which promotes secrecy rather than transparency, and maybe the Auditor General who has also proved hopeless in the K577 billion Cashgate scam, downgraded to K236 billion.

Setting up a commission of inquiry in the midst of these other organs comes out as a mere smoke screen. We shall soon be told that there is no money to operationalise the commission before hearing that the government is trying so hard to get approvals from Zambian government and banks to access documents.

That will be the end of the commission. It is a tragedy that as a nation, we cannot trust our own constitutionally recognised institutions or special commissions because of the way successive political administrations have used these bodies.

Chaponda’s statement

It was incredible to see the minister issuing a statement immediately after his boss set up the commission. There are a number of issues one can isolate from the minister’s confession. The first is that the minister finds it unnecessary for the President to set up the commission because, according to his confession, deductive theories can lead to the real culprit.

Secondly, Chaponda just wants to be safe by denying Mulumbe three times before the rooster that is the commission crows once.

But Chaponda’s reasoning that Malawians should not be worried as the money has not been paid to Zambian Cooperative Federation (ZCF) lacks basis. As a man of letters, Chaponda should know that the fact that the PTA Bank wired the money means that the clock has started ticking for Malawi. Even if ZCF did not cash the money, there are still costs of the transaction that Malawians are already bearing. Meanwhile, the Zambian bank that is handling the deal on behalf of Admarc and ZCF is racking in interests from poor Malawian tax-payers.

Granted, the Ministry of Agriculture is there to provide policy direction and guidance to Admarc, but is the minister really serious to say that he was not appraised about the deals beyond policy level? If the minister would not be interested in details of efforts to avert a serious food crisis that faced 6.5 million Malawians, what would trigger his curiosity? If he did not follow through such a deal of national strategic importance, would he be said to be in control?

Perhaps, the other point worth raising would be how did the minister approve a deal between Admarc and a private trader Kaloswe when he claimed that he had negotiated a government-to-government deal?

Truth needs no justification

Every well meaning person can tell that Mulumbe is being crucified for a deal gone sour. Not that Mulumbe is a saint but because he is just a pawn on this chess board. He was appointed in that position to serve his masters. And this is the time his masters need him more. He will have to be sacrificed for the sins of his bosses. He might have carted home his share of the K13 billion mark-up but it should be negligible compared to what the kingpins hauled to their mansions.

But he was given a job on a silver platter and he should know quite well that there is no free lunch under the sun.

As the debate continues, Malawians shall surely know why Chaponda declared that he was happy that poor Malawians were forced to pay K12,500 for a 50 kilogramme bag of maize. They shall also understand why Mutharika stuck to the same price despite cries of desperation from his poor subjects. As of now, Mulumbe can learn a bitter lesson that after the appointment, comes the disappointment.

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