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High Court finds Cliff Chiunda, Grey Nyandule-Phiri guilty in tractorgate case

By Faith Kadzanja:

The High Court in Lilongwe has found Secretary to Treasury (ST) Cliff Chiunda and Agriculture Ministry Principal Secretary (PS) Grey Nyandule-Phiri guilty of contempt of court for disrespecting a court order in connection with the procurement and disposal of farm equipment bought using a $50 million (about K37 billion) loan.

Presiding Judge Charles Mkandawire has set down the matter for sentencing on August 5 2019.

The matter was held in a closed chamber in Lilongwe on Monday.

Recently, Mkandawire reserved a ruling on the contempt of court application by the Ombudsman against Finance and Agriculture ministers on the order by the Supreme Court which upheld one of the directives by Ombudsman, Martha Chizuma, investigation report indicating that the ministries should apologise to Malawians over the manner in which the equipment was sold.

The Supreme Court ordered on February 22 2019 that the Ombudsman had jurisdiction of the equipment, loosely called Tractorgate scandal.

The Ombudsman started investigating the matter after receiving complaints from former Member of Parliament Juliana Lunguzi and a small-scale farmer from Rumphi District against the government’s decision to sell the tractors to politicians and commercial farmers, contrary to the Loan Authorisation Bill, which was used to purchase the tractors.

After her investigation, the Ombudsman faulted Finance and Agriculture ministers for the manner in which they handled the procurement and disposal of the tractors that were meant to benefit small-scale farmers.

Meanwhile, Chizuma said she was satisfied with the ruling because the two did not comply with the Supreme Court order, urging them to apologise within 21 days.

Nyandule-Phiri apologised once.

“The court has found the ST to Treasury and PS for Agriculture guilty of contempt of court and sentencing is on Monday. From the Office of the Ombudsman, it was obvious because we had seen how non-compliance had happened since we released our report. For the court to agree with us, it is the people of Malawi that has won,” Chizuma said.

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