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The defiant George Chaponda

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Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Dr George Chaponda was at it again on Friday.

While every stakeholder who was summoned by the joint parliamentary committee of Agriculture and Public Accounts that is probing the procurement of maize from Zambia obeyed the order, Chaponda failed to appear before the committee.

Chaponda’s failure comes hot on the heels of his jumping a court injunction last week which effectively suspended him from discharging ministerial duties until the probe in the maize saga is completed. He flew out to Germany on official duty.

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Principal Secretary in Chaponda’s ministry, Erica Maganga, apparently failed to convince the joint committee on the ministry’s involvement in the transaction and the committee hoped that Chaponda would provide persuasive information.

However, despite his secretary having reportedly confirmed to the committee that the invitation had been received, Chaponda failed to show up even though he supposedly made no effort to provide reasons for his non-appearance.

Chairperson of the joint committee, Joseph Chidanti Malunga, said it was unfortunate that the minister had failed to appear before the committee when everyone else who had been summoned had complied.

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“We wanted to wrap up our meeting with the appearance of the minister but he has not appeared. I can confirm to you that as far as we are concerned, he is not coming… He has not given any reason why he has not shown up but what we know is that he has breached parliamentary procedures and we will see what happens next.

“We confirmed with his secretary that he indeed received our invitation as you know that he was supposed to be with us around 11 o’clock [in the morning] but this is around 2 pm and it is very clear that he has breached parliamentary procedures,” said Malunga.

Asked whether Chaponda’s failure to appear before the committee would affect the inquiry, Malunga admitted this would be the case if the minister continued defying the summons.

“We will be writing another letter and we hope he will appear before the committee. But if he fails again, we will include that in our report which will be presented in the House and perhaps that is where a decision will be made,” said Malunga.

Our efforts to speak to Chaponda proved futile as he first answered our call but gave the phone to another person even before we introduced the subject.

The person who got the phone asked for this reporter’s details and promised that the minister would call back. He never did and could not pick our subsequent calls.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has described Chaponda’s failure to appear before the joint committee as an affront on democracy.

“It is strange that when the country is expecting to hear a lot on the issue, the minister decides not to appear before the committee. It is even strange that he has done so when every other stakeholder complied. This is an affront on democracy,” said CCJP National Secretary, Martin Chiphwanya.

He added: “The minister has been mentioned several times and it was important for him to clear himself. He was supposed to say his side of the story because failure to do so mean the country is being denied vital information on the matter.”

As we went to press, it was reported that Chaponda had later claimed that he had failed to appear before the committee because he had just received the invitation a few moments before.(Who reported this? We are confusing the readers. We said he did not pick our phone)

The joint committee is hearing testimonies from different stakeholders in relation to the procurement of maize by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) from Zambia and Chaponda was expected to provide information on his involvement in the transaction.

Malunga also disclosed that the committee’s plans to go to Zambia remain intact.

“We are waiting for confirmation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as you know that we are travelling outside the country and this is Parliament and we need clearance from the Foreign Affairs Ministry,” said Malunga.

Chaponda has been caught up in the maize saga following his involvement in the sourcing of the staple grain.

The matter has resulted into several controversies in different areas including the tonnage that is in the country, the contracts that were signed and terminated and whether it was necessary that Admarc should purchase the maize from outside the country.

The joint parliamentary committee is one of the four inquiries into the matter alongside Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) which has already released its findings, the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry has since announced the extension of its deadline from the initial January 31 to February 9.

In a statement released yesterday, the commission said it had made good progress on inquiries but said it would not be able to analyse the information obtained by January 31.

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