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Twist in K53 billion immigration deal

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Kalekeni Kaphale

There is a twist in the case involving the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services and businessman Abdul Karim Batatawala—trading as Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company— as court records show that both the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Fiscal Police cleared the two companies of wrongdoing.

Batatawala’s firms are in court, where they dragged the Immigration Department and are demanding over K53 billion payment for items that the businessman supplied to the government in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

This is happening at a time Attorney General (AG) Chikosa Silungwe has asked the ACB to investigate the contracts— which he describes as dubious— between the Department of Immigration and Batatawala’s firms.

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According to a letter sent to ACB, Silungwe says the contracts were not duly approved by the Secretary to the Treasury and that officers at the department overcommitted the government to huge sums of money which was not appropriated by the National Assembly.

“We note that all the said contracts bear the same contract number with a mere ‘No objection’ from PPDA [Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority] masquerading as an authority to enter into such contracts… We find these transactions to be very suspicious,” the letter reads.

However, court records in case number 16 of 2017 between Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company and the AG, the witness statement of a Malawi Police Service Fiscal and Fraud Section officer, among others, confirmed that there was a contract and that the items were supplied to the Immigration Department’s warehouse.

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Based on this, the then AG Kalekeni Kaphale, on March 4 2020, wrote Batatawala’s lawyers Nampota opting for negotiations to reduce the amount.

“…in the circumstances, you may wish to pend further action on the case until the negotiations are conducted and finalised,” the letter reads.

The records show that both the ACB and Fiscal Police cleared Batatawala and his companies, having found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the suppliers.

For all the contracts, the Office of the Director of Public Procurement, which is now called PPDA, carried out due diligence and issued ‘No Objections’.

For each contract, the Immigration Department would issue a request to submit bids, to which Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company would respond.

For example, in a letter dated March 8 2009, the then Chief Immigration Officer Elvis Thodi wrote Africa Commercial Agency, advising the company that it had been nominated to participate in the procurement of uniforms and other items by the Immigration Department, which also provided bidding documents to the firm.

On March 20 2009, Africa Commercial Agency sent its quotation to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services’ Internal Procurement Committee, which evaluated the offers and awarded the contract on April 24 2009.

This was the standard for all the contracts that the department had processed pertaining to the supply of uniforms and accessories in 2010 and 2012.

According to the agreed terms of delivery and payments, delivery and payments would be gradual and spread over several years based on the department’s uniform needs.

According to documents we have seen—including written communications between the suppliers and the Immigration Department—the firms delivered the goods and the department acknowledged receipt and was able to make part payments.

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