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This President owes us apology

Listening to suspended Agriculture Minister George Chaponda when he appeared before joint parliamentary committee on the maize scam on Wednesday, one gets the impression that the DPP run government is unrepentant and that it feels it did nothing wrong on maize.

And to me this is the essence of this scandal as the President Peter Mutharika administration has characterised it with so much arrogance that you begin to wonder whether it cares about the plight of Malawi.

I will not get tired with this refrain. Maize is a strategic crop in this country. It is the most important crop among everything that this country grows. We neither eat tobacco nor cotton although they bring quite a substantial amount of forex to oil our ailing economy.

Government announced a crisis last year that this country will not harvest enough maize because of poor weather conditions and that 6.5 million Malawians face hunger if no maize is imported.

You would have thought that this is the issue that government would pay maximum attention to so that it gets the economics of maize right.

It entails doing all it could to keep the price down so that everybody—including the poor of the poorest—could have access.

But what did we see or discover?

It is Admarc raising the price of maize to unreasonable levels.

Admarc went about to PTA Bank and borrowed $34 million to buy maize. Admarc went with a bag of borrowed money offering exorbitant prices to any who lay claim that they had maize although Admarc never saw it.

Yes, Admarc went about identifying suppliers using single sourcing and harassing the Office Director of Public Procurement (ODPP) to give them the No Objection letter as soon as yesterday.

Then came the suppliers. At first it was Kaloswe who offered to sell the grain at $345 per tonne. It did not work as Kaloswe did not have the maize and was to buy the grain from Zambian Cooperative Federation (ZCF).

Admarc cancelled this contract and opted instead to deal straight with ZCF at the same price of $345 per tonne.

And then came the execution of the contract. Of the 100,000 metric tonnes of maize from Zambia, only 4,500 tonnes came home.

Accusations of lies, forgery and inconsistencies are all over the place. MRA pre-cleared the maize for whatever reason.

There is a paper trail and no one in the DPP government is interested to tell who did what and why?

Surprisingly Admarc was also buying local maize at higher price but again setting the price without allowing the sellers to bid and compete for lower prices.

Simply put, government and Admarc, through carelessness, incompetence and crookedness, have failed Malawians and artificially raised the price of maize to a level that is beyond the rich of many of them especially in the rural areas.

As if to prove this point, the private traders are selling the maize cheaper than at Admarc when all these years, the opposite has been the reality.

What the country is yet to figure out is why this senselessness? Is it a result of just sheer incompetence or someone or some people wanted to benefit?

But the breakthrough came when the joint parliamentary committee probing the maize crossed the border into Zambia. There are enough leads to now pinpoint who did what and why?

Who was forging documents, for example? Who gave the order that MRA pre-clears maize when it has not landed at the border and why?

Yet despite all this, what we see is the continuing arrogance from the DPP characters such as Chaponda that all the cutting of corners was necessary because, in his own words, the house was burning.

The question is: which house? Why are Malawians not rushing to Admarc if at all the country needed all the 100,000 metric tonnes of maize? Did we really need the maize? Does cutting of corners, because the house was burning, include forgery and lies and presentation of fake invoices?

No, we, Malawians do not need this arrogance. What we need is an apology from the President because his government was careless with our lives by playing with maize and treating it as a playground of forgery, fraud, corruption, lies and absurdity.

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