Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, George Chaponda, lied to the nation when he said he was not directly involved in the suspicious purchase of maize from Zambia and that he had just visited Zambia twice as a special envoy to President Peter Mutharika to help negotiate the deal.
Chaponda claimed in the statement that was released on Wednesday that he had been to Zambia on May 18, 2016 and December 11, 2016, to negotiate with the Government of Zambia to consider selling maize to Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) and the rest was done by the corporation.
But our findings indicate that Chaponda might have been to Zambia more than twice as the dates he mentioned in the press release contradict with what President Peter Mutharika told a press briefing at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe on October 21, 2016 upon returning from the United Nations General Assembly.
Mutharika said on the day that Chaponda was in Zambia signing the maize purchase deal with the President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu.
Ironically, Chaponda who was conspicuously absent from the press briefing, left out this date in his press release and what he was doing in Zambia at that particular time.
Mutharika said: “Admarc requires about 206, 000 metric tonnes and at the moment we have already stocked 100, 000 metric tonnes. Admarc will be selling that maize. I just got a call from Honourable Chaponda about 30 minutes ago. He has just signed an agreement with the President of Zambia for 100, 000 metric tonnes from Zambia today. That’s coming, that’s coming,” said Mutharika amid ululations from the party officials that graced the press briefing.
In the press statement, Chaponda issued he said that he went to Zambia the second time after learning that the Zambian Government had banned maize exports and by that time, Zambia Cooperation Federation (ZCF) had not yet started supplying the maize.
He said on December 11 2016, as a special envoy of President Mutharika, he led a delegation to meet Zambia’s Lungu on the export of maize to Malawi due to the fact that a contract was already signed between ZCF and Admarc before the ban.
“I arrived in the Republic of Zambia on the same day, met the President of the Republic of Zambia and thereafter attended a press briefing conducted by my counterpart, the Minister of Agriculture in Zambia during which she announced that the Government of Zambia had approved export of 100,000 MT of maize to Malawi. I came back from that trip on December 12, 2016. This was on the understanding that this was a Government to Government arrangement,” said the statement.
But we understand that maize from Zambia started trickling in on November 26, 2016— which is 15 days before the date Chaponda said he went to negotiate in Zambia—according to what Admarc CEO,Foster Mulumbe, told Journalists.
The Daily Times carried a story on November 29, 2016 titled “Maize trickles in from Zambia” in which Mulumbe showed reporters trucks bearing Zambian registration numbers offloading maize at the corporation’s Area 4 Warehouses in Lilongwe.
That time 341 metric tonnes had arrived and Mulumbe said the second consignment of 420 metric tonnes was on the way from Zambia.
That was the time after Members of Parliament had tussled with Chaponda in Parliament over the country’s food situation with most of them demanding assurances that their constituents will not die from hunger.
Media reports from Zambia also indicated that the maize ban was lifted in October after the country’s general elections.
When we contacted Chaponda to comment on these contradictions, he angrily said the Wednesday press release was his last comment on the matter.
“If you did not understand the simple language I used in the statement, then you should wait till the Commission of Inquiry releases its findings,” said Chaponda.
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