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Peter Mutharika told to suspend Foster Mulumbe, George Chaponda

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As the Zambian maize saga continues to snowball, the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) of Parliament has urged President Peter Mutharika to suspend Admarc Chief Executive Officer Foster Mulumbe and Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda to pave way of investigations.

Over the past two weeks, The Daily Times has carried a series of stories exposing what could be an extensive scam regarding the procurement of Malawi’s staple grain from its western neighbour.

At heart of the matter is a Zambian middleman, Kaloswe Limited, whose involvement in the procurement is feared to have had a bearing on the price of the commodity on the local market.

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Currently, Admarc is selling the maize at K12,500 per bag, a price way beyond the reach of many people whose welfare the acquisition of the maize was supposedly intended for.

The revelations of the involvement of a middleman run contrary to claims by Mulumbe that there had been no dealer involved in the procurement or anything wrong in the procurement

Since the revelations started, the Executive arm of the government has not been forthcoming with explanation on what really happened.

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Chaponda, who gave a statement in Parliament on the procurement, has been particularly shunning the media on the matter, leaving Mulumbe to fight all on his own.

In an exclusive interview, Pac Chairperson, Alekeni Menyani, said that the manner in which the Executive arm of government is treating the issue is as if they have something to hide or someone to protect.

“I say this because if there is nothing to hide, then I would expect the State President His Excellency Professor Peter Mutharika to do a mini-reshuffle so that we create a conducive environment for investigations.

“Here we have a whole Cabinet minister being implicated in the allegations, yet he still remains in his position. Here we have a whole CEO of Admarc being implicated yet still remains in his position. Yet we expect oversight bodies to carry out their investigations and release impartial reports. This is simply untenable,” said Menyani.

He argued that the people implicated will do everything possible to block any investigations if they feel some underhand dealings in relation to the maize issue will be uncovered.

“We are not saying they are guilty. We are simply saying they should allow investigations to take place without any impediment so that everything is cleared. After that, they will retain their positions if necessary,” said Menyani.

Asked whether Mutharika will crack the whip on Mulumbe and Chaponda, government spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi, said he would not comment on the matter because it is now in court.

When we put it to him that our questions were not really directly related to the details in the court order, Dausi maintained that any comment from him would be prejudicial.

“If you had not written the story and put it on your front page, I would be willing to comment on the matter. But now I cannot do so because I will be putting myself and even you in a precarious position.

“The court has prevented you from writing about this anymore so I don’t want you and me to be taken to court for disrespecting its decision,” said Dausi.

Dausi was referring to an injunction which Mulumbe sought on Thursday stopping Times from running what he calls “false and untrue stories” on the matter.

Presidential press secretary Mgeme yesterday asked for 30 minutes before commenting on behalf of the President. When we called him after the 30 minutes had elapsed, his phone was off.

Malawi is reeling in food crisis largely due to drought that hit the country in the past growing season, straight after the 2015 season when crops fields were devastated by floods. The situation has rendered up to 6.5 million people in dire need of food aid.

The procurement of the maize from Zambia was part of government’s response to the crisis.

Government borrowed $34 million (about K26 billion) from the PTA Bank for the purchase of the maize.

And while it had been expected that Admarc would peg its maize price at a level which many of those affected by food shortage would have been able to reach, Mutharika stunned the country in October when he announced that Admarc would be selling the maize at K250 per kilogramme, a rise of over 100 percent from what it was last year.

Government and some members of the donor community insisted that selling the grain at this price would enable Admarc to collect enough money for it to repay the PTA loan.

They also argued that the price would put off profiteering vendors who, in the event of lower Admarc price, would have swept the maize off its markets and resell it to Malawians at an exorbitant price.

As it turned out, private traders are now selling the maize cheaper that Admarc.

Chaponda welcomed this, saying the private traders will run out of the maize at some point and Malawians will flock back to Admarc to buy the expensive grain.

During the last sitting of Parliament that ended mid December, opposition MPs pleaded with government to reduce the price of maize at Admarc but to no avail as Chaponda kept to his guns.

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