Sabre rattling, Malawi’s Ombudsperson, Martha Chimuza-Mwagonde has ordered the arrest of hordes of top civil servants who sat on the government Internal Procurement Committee(IPC) and decided to dispose off177 tractors and 144 maize shellers meant for small farmers at nominal prices.

Those facing prosecution are from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC).

In a 48-page report released last week and submitted to the Speaker of parliament Richard Msowoya, a beneficiary himself, Chimuza-Mwagonde said the sale was both illegal and irregular.

The report titled “The Present, The Future Overburdened” cited nine instances of gross maladministration ranging from how the Loan Authorization bill was rushed through parliament, how civil servants took oral orders from the Presidency, archaic financial record keeping at the ministry of finance to how members of the IPC failed to declare conflict of interests.

Chimuza-Mwagonde, whose appointment is at the behest of the President, also chided the government for procuring obsolete and archaic equipment arguing it was maladministration of the highest order.

The government’s Chief Mechanical Engineer, Dr. Hendrix Kazembe said the Sonalika Tractors, which the Ministry of Finance procured illegally acting as a procurement entity, were built using an archaic technology from the 1970s.

“The officials who were members of IPC presided over the sale of the farm machinery and benefitted from the sale should be prosecuted in accordance with the Procurement Act. I will write the Director of Public of Prosecutions in accordance with Section 126 (c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi,” Chimuza-Mwagonde said.

If convicted the public servants, apart from losing their jobs, they face a $60 fine and or two years in jail.

Malawi’s Procurement Act Section 19 demands that any person who is sitting in an IPC and acquire an interest in a matter that is to be determined, needs to declare their interests and recuse themselves and are not to take part in the deliberations.

The tractors and shellers were part of a $50-million (R695m) development scheme set up to buffer millions of peasant farmers from drought.

Funded by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank), the government’s scheme dubbed Green Belt Initiative (GBI) sought to put about a million hectares of farmland under irrigation and improve food security for peasant farmers, who make up 70% of the population.

One starling observation which the office of the Ombudsman unearthed is that the Ministry of Finance used the Indian based Apollo International for all the contracts that fell under the three line of credits from the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank).

These are: The first loan agreement dated 14th May, 2008 between Malawi government and Export Import Bank of India for a loan amounting to $30,000,000.This loan was to be used for financing supply of irrigation, storage, tobacco threshing plant and One Village One Product.

The Second loan agreement was dated 1st February, 2011 between government of Malawi and the same Export and Import Bank ofIndia for a total amount of $50,000,000 for the purposes of financing cotton processing facilities, GBI and one village one product OVOP inMalawi.

Lastly, the third loan was signed on 13th December, 2012 between government of Malawi and Export and Import Bank of India for the sum of $76,500,000 for the purposes of financing development of irrigation network under the GBI, setting up of refined sugar processing equipment in Salima under greenbelt initiative and development of fuel storage facilities in Malawi.

“On procurement method used to identify Apollo, it is not very clear if the procurement process was done accordingly because MoF could not provide the minutes of the IPC and other tender documents,” the report noted. – Collins Mtika – Nyasa Times – CIJM