Barely a day after Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) Board Chairperson Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi announced that the corporation will proceed with the sale of 100,000 metric tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe’s Grain Millers Association, Admarc management Wednesday told the Agriculture Committee of Parliament that it was not aware of the deal.
Committee members summoned Admarc officials to furnish them with information on the purchase of maize for 2022, the sale of maize to Zimbabwe and the suspension of General Manager Rhino Chiphiko.
Following Admarc management’s position, committee chairperson Sameer Suleman directed management to terminate the sale agreement until a comprehensive assessment of Malawi’s food situation is done.
Suleman said, from the interface, they think that the board is overstepping its mandate at the expense of Malawians, who are at risk of facing hunger in the 2022- 23 season, adding that the deal is suspicious.
“Circumstances regarding the deal leave people with more questions than answers. It is new to us to have a whole board chairperson signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a transaction without the knowledge of management. There seems to be no separation of duties and it is our verdict that Admarc should put on hold this maize sale [deal],” he said.
“Need I say that we, as a country, currently do not have enough stocks of maize to feed us. At the moment, people are buying a bag of maize at K15, 000, which is a clear sign that supply is low. The harvest doesn’t look promising,” he added.
During the meeting, it was learned that one of the board members’ law firms drafted the MoU and facilitated paperwork for the transaction, without the knowledge of management.
Director of Operations at Admarc Garnet Gwembere told the committee that he was not aware of the deal until last Thursday, when he was given a copy of the MoU which was signed by Dzonzi and his Zimbabwean counterpart Tafadzwa Musara.
Admarc acting General Manager Jerome Nkhoma also expressed ignorance on the $22 million deal, adding that he had no handover notes from Chiphiko when he assumed office.
Suleman also said the committee has problems with the board’s decision to suspend Chiphiko on grounds that he authorised the purchase of his official vehicle, a Nissan Patrol valued at about K107 million, without following procedures when they are also cutting corners in the maize deal.
“It is quite ironical that the chairperson can suspend someone for wrongs, and yet he is at the centre stage of flouting procedures that will cost the nation as a whole,” he said.
Dzonzi said they would comply with the committee’s recommendation but said they were authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture to sell the maize which, he said, serves as collateral with banks they owe money to.
He also said they would like to create space for new maize purchases, adding that they spend about K300 million a month to take care of the grain which they have in stock.
“We have seen the maturity debts for the loans and we have to pay back. And, looking at the money which goes into taking care of the stock, the longer we keep the maize in our warehouses, the more costly it is. It was with good intentions that the board thought of selling the maize….However, we will comply with what the committee has told us,” Dzonzi said.
On information gaps between the board and management on the maize deal, Dzonzi attributed the said lapses to what he called inefficiencies on Chiphiko’s part, who he accused of failing to make necessary communications to management.
Chiphiko refused to comment on the issue, saying his lawyers have advised him to keep quiet on the issue.
When a contacted, spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture Gracian Lungu said they had also advised the corporation to put on hold the export deal until the second round of crop yield estimation is done.