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Maize saga rages on

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The controversial maize deal between Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) and Zambian private company, Kaloswe Courier Limited, has taken a new turn with Zambia’s opposition leader, Saviour Chishimba pushing that country’s President Edgar Lungu to act on the culprits.

In a statement, Chishimba said in the interest of natural justice, his party decided to give the government up to the end of 2016 before seeking a tribunal to probe that country’s Minister of Commerce, Margaret Mwanakatwe and Minister of Agriculture, Dora Siliya.

Chishimba’s action also includes the submission of the report to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Competition Commission for action.

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He said he is happy that the Malawian media, Church and Civil Society Organisations, including foreign missions accredited to Malawi, have since their exposition of the scandal and circulation of evidence never rested to fight for action from government.

“The magnitude of the corruption in this transaction begs for action from President Edgar Lungu himself. He must emulate his Malawian counterpart before UPP [United Progressive People, Zambia’s opposition party] takes actions that will be embarrassing to government. It would appear to us that President Edgar Lungu has endorsed corruption as a way of running public affairs.

“UPP has warned against the transformation of state house into a centre of corruption and the awarding of public contracts. It’s very difficult for the President to act when his top level friends in government are involved and this is the reason why we continue to appeal for transparency and accountability in the running of government,” Chishimba’s statement reads.

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Meanwhile President Peter Mutharika’s decision to institute a commission of inquiry to probe allegations of wrongdoing in the maize deal has only faintly excited civil society organisations (CSOs) that have threatened to reject the commission’s findings.

The commission which was instituted on Sunday comprises retired Chief Justice Anastazia Msosa as chairperson, Solicitor General Janet Banda, Public Auditor Isaac Kayira and Mike Chinoko as its members.

However, 16 CSOs which have been relentless on the maize saga argue that they have serious reservations with the four-member commission of inquiry which they say cannot be independent.

They further argue that in the event that Minister of Agriculture, George Chaponda and Admarc Chief Executive Officer, Foster Mulumbe, remain in their positions, any inquiry on the maize procurement process may not achieve anything.

The CSOs include Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), Focus, Manerela, Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn), Public Affairs Committee (Pac), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).

During a press briefing that they organised in Lilongwe yesterday, the CSOs’ executive directors further called on government to adequately fund the commission of inquiry so as to meet its deadline of 21 days.

HRCC Chairperson, Robert Mkwezalamba, read out a joint open letter to Mutharika which, among others, reiterates that the president should suspend Chaponda and Mulumbe “for the commission to exercise its work independently”.

“The commission should include Members of the civil society, Parliament and private firms to fully adopt the [term] ‘independent’. The CSO community has already endorsed two leaders from within its structures to sit on the commission to represent the CSOs.

“We appeal for the president’s office to engage Parliament and [the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI)] to also be provided with the names of their representatives on the appointed commission,” reads the letter.

During the briefing, Cedep Executive Director, Gift Trapence, argued that even the appointment of the commission itself simply implies that Mutharika does not have confidence in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) which is mandated to fight graft in the country.

“That is why we demand that the commission itself should also inspire confidence because we want the outcome to be credible. We don’t know what the relationship of the current members and the appointing authority is,” said Trapence.

On demands that he should be suspended or resign willfully, Chaponda is reported to have claimed that he has nothing to do with the rest of the procurement because his involvement was only at policy level.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Admarc management bypassed the corporation’s board in one level of the procurement process.

In the deal, Admarc procured maize from Kaloswe as an intermediary at $34.5 million (about K25billion) instead of buying directly from Zambia Cooperative Federation at $21.5 million (about K15.5billion) which means the government lost about K9.5 billion in the syndicate.

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