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Sameer Suleman, Lobin Lowe tempers flare

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NOT SEEING EYE TO EYE— with Lowe, Suleman

The fallout between Lobin Lowe and Sameer Suleman reared its ugly head Thursday when tempers flared between the two during an inquiry into the 2022 Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP)

A joint parliamentary committee is investigating the handling of the programme this year.

The two have been at loggerheads, with Suleman persistently accusing Lowe, when he served as Agriculture minister, of mishandling the programme.

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For the first time, the inquiry drew Lowe and Suleman, Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, face to face Thursday.

At the start, Lowe protested the latter’s co-chairmanship of the inquiry. He refused to be interrogated by him, saying he was conflicted.

Suleman ended up recusing himself.

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In the absence of another co-chair, Gladys Ganda, Mwanza lawmaker Nicholas Dausi took over as caretaker co-chairperson.

During the deliberations, tempers flared a couple of times when Lowe reflected on Suleman, dividing the committee members in the process.

He said Suleman is privy to some of the information on the matter under investigation since he was in the delegation that travelled to Egypt to look for fertiliser suppliers and compare prices.

According to Lowe, the Blantyre City South East lawmaker is the originator of reports about the alleged misappropriation of K30 billion at the Ministry of Agriculture, which is also under the joint committee’s inquiry.

“The member was part of the delegation that went to Egypt and he has information regarding the status of AIP and global prices of fertiliser and our economy. He has that privileged information.

“Secondly, one of the allegations I am here for was ‘manufactured’ here in Parliament through the agriculture committee through the same member who was spreading lies,” Lowe said.

A visibly angry Suleman challenged the inquiry and asked for the floor to be heard, a request which Dausi shot down. He said, at an appropriate time, the committee would summon him for his side of the story.

Speaking after the hearing, Suleman confirmed that he would be appearing before the committee.

He said his visit to Egypt was in his capacity as chairperson for the agriculture committee and that he was performing the oversight role on its behalf.

“I have officially asked the committee to invite me so that I can give my side of the story and clear myself. I was not part of the mess they created and let me say that the committee was sidelined from all the trips and discussions regarding the K750 million deal,” he said.

Appearing before the committee after Lowe was Secretary to the Treasury MacDonald Mafuta Mwale.

In his presentation, Mwale said the Treasury was not part of the discussions and procurement of the 25,000 metric tonnes from Barkaat Foods Limited, a consignment which was never delivered, with government losing about K750 million.

He added that he did not have documented evidence about the $181,250 that the government says it has recovered from the alleged dubious deal with the British firm.

Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRFM) Board Chairperson Marjorie Phiri told the committee on Tuesday that, as of October 30, the money was credited in the fund’s account held with Ecobank.

SFFRFM was engaged by the Ministry of Agriculture earlier this year to spearhead the purchase of fertiliser from the British firm, which allegedly claimed it had a fertiliser production line with globally-known fertiliser manufacturing company, Yara.

The inquiry comes after months of allegations that the government has been duped of K30 billion in a fertiliser deal and after an official statement from the Ministry of Agriculture, denying the allegation.

In the statement signed by the then-principal secretary Sandram Maweru, the ministry dismissed the K30 billion allegation but admitted to have been swindled of K750 million which it had paid as commitment fee.

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