Even with an injunction suspending him from functioning as cabinet minister, Minister of Agriculture and Water Development, George Chaponda flew out of the country to Berlin, Germany on Thursday to attend the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) international conference.
Three civil society organisations last week obtained an order suspending him from official duty until the investigation into the purchase of maize from Zambia is concluded.
A move by the Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale to have the injunction vacated last week did not materialise and the court set January 31 for decision on the matter. This effectively meant the injunction as earlier obtained still stands.
However, Chaponda has still travelled to Germany in his capacity as minister.
The ministry’s Principal Secretary, Erica Maganga, confirmed yesterday having facilitated Chaponda’s trip.
She was speaking to the joint parliamentary committees of Agriculture and Public Accounts which are conducting an inquiry into the maize purchase saga.
When parliamentarian for Karonga Central, Frank Mwenefumbo, asked her about Chaponda’s trip to Germany, Maganga initially dodged the question saying, “This can best be answered by the Office of President and Cabinet.”
The members however did not buy this as they insisted that they are aware that the minister was stopped from working but had gone to Germany on official duties.
“…don’t refer us to OPC because if we want to talk to OPC, we have their numbers and we can call it anytime and ask them. As the Principal Secretary where is the minister of agriculture and where he has got his ticket to Germany,” queried Dowa East parliamentarian, Richard Chimwendo.
It was a highly emotive and intense situation as the committee members pressed Maganga to tell them issues. They regularly interrupted her asking her to get straight to the point.
Chimwendo said the committee needed to know if the minister has indeed gone to Germany considering that the courts suspended him because of the Zambia maize procurement issue.
“Indeed I work with the minister. But I’m referring the committee to OPC because a minister’s travel is facilitated by the OPC,” Maganga said.
But Mwenefumbo said: “Madam PS you have here two former minister and deputy ministers who are aware that the one who originates a letter to the OPC for the minister to travel is the PS. It goes there for the President’s approval. The reason why the honourable members are asking is whether you have written any letter for the President to approve.
“The line ministry is the one who buys the ticket and processes the minister’s allowance. OPC facilitates communication between line ministry and State House or presidency,” he said.
During the exchange,deputy chair of Public Accounts Committee Kamlepo Kalua implicated Maganga in facilitating Chaponda’s travel to Germany.
He said according to the documents he had, Maganga herself came up with an itinerary of activities at the meeting.
“It’s indicated that at 10:30- 12:30 the minister would be in round table meeting in Berlin Germany… So you see madam the purpose of this meeting is for you to educate this committee whether you were part of this or not, if you are aware of the court injunction or not,” he said.
In response Maganga confirmed that her office was involved in facilitating Chaponda’s trip to Germany saying, “This was processed before Christmas holidays because the letter came much earlier. But as you have rightly said the minister hasn’t been coming to the office.”
Government spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi said he was not aware of Chaponda’s trip to Germany.
Meanwhile, Executive Director for Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep), Gift Trapence said the three organisations are going to file a contempt of court case.
“We are filing a contempt of court case should we establish that Chaponda is indeed in Germany in his capacity as Minister of Agriculture because the courts suspended him from executing duties to pave way for investigations,” he said.
The GFFA conference Chaponda is attending focuses on questions concerning the future of the global agri-food industry.
It started on January 19, 2017 and ends today, January 21, 2017.
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