Secretary to Treasury (ST) Macdonald Mafuta Mwale, whose office holds 99 percent of shares in the troubled Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc), Thursday said he was not part of the decision to shut down the State-owned grain trader.
Mwale appeared before a joint Parliament committee that is looking into the closure and suspected insurance fraud at the parastatal.
He said then minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe’s announcement on August 31, 2022 came as news to him.
“No formal procedures were followed in the process of closing Admarc and even after the [former] minister’s announcement, no formal communication was made to my office,” the ST said.
On the other hand, Mwale indicated that he was aware that there were a lot of meetings on Admarc but that the meetings were about discussing financial problems at the company.
He added that Admarc’s board told the Ministry of Finance that what was happening was an operational issue and that workers were being sent on a three-month paid leave only to hear later that staff would be retrenched at a cost of K8.9 billion.
He weighed in on the costs, saying they are too high and nowhere in the budget of Treasury which is supposed to cough the money.
“That is a worry for me because all the requests I have on my desk from the Ministry of Agriculture about Admarc are yet to be met. For instance, we are talking about salaries which haven’t been paid. So as we speak, we do not have such resources,” the ST said.
During his earlier appearance before the committee, Comptroller of Statutory Corporations, Peter Simbani, also said he was not consulted on the shutdown of Admarc and the subsequent sending of staff on indefinite leave.
Simbani insisted that a decision to send parastatal workers on leave and suspend operations needed his office to be engaged.
“Our mandate is to follow up on matters of corporate governance, issues of administration in all parastatals. This is an administrative issue. We should have been informed that this is what is going to happen; then we would have provided our advice,” Simbani said.
Meanwhile, appearing before the same committee yesterday, former Admarc board chairperson Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi seemed to be having a tough time explaining issues in one accord especially regarding his connection with a company called Market Link.
On Monday, Dzonzi told the committee that he did not know the company which allegedly fraudulently controlled maize transactions between cooperatives and Admarc.
But yesterday, he told the committee that he knew the company through some cooperatives in Lilongwe, that approached him about challenges they were facing with Admarc and that Market Link was their proxy.
Admarc’s suspended General Manager Rhino Chiphiko also said he was introduced to Market Link by Dzonzi.
“It was honourable Dzonzi who told me that we were meeting some of the cooperatives and one of them was Market Link which was stationed at [National Food Reserve Agency] at Kanengo,” Chiphiko said.
While admitting to have worked with Market Link as a coordinator for cooperatives, Admarc Central Region Manager Dave Masache told the committee that no payment was made to the company for the work it had done.
Lowe announced the shutting down of Admarc and cited high levels of corruption, theft and professional negligence at the State-owned grain trader as reasons for the decision.