The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is investigating the disappearance of 150 bags of maize for inmates at Mikuyu Prison in Zomba this year.
ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala confirmed in an e-mail response on Monday that investigations are underway on the matter.
But she refused to shed more light on who exactly the graft-busting body is investigating.
Said Ndala: “The Anti-Corruption Bureau has launched an investigation into the alleged corrupt practices at Mikuyu Prison. Currently, investigations are underway. The bureau cannot provide more information than what it has provided as the investigation is underway.”
However, the Malawi Prisons is disputing reports that some senior officers at Mikuyu Prison in Zomba stole 150 bags of maize meant for food for inmates, a development that would condemn to starvation almost 500 prisoners at the jail.
According to two sources [names withheld], a senior official at the prison ordered the removal of 50 bags of maize which was taken to his house, and further ordered that 100 bags be given to 10 other officers to shut their mouths.
Malawi Prisons spokesperson Smart Maliro in a WhatsApp response on Tuesday insisted that the allegations were investigated internally and they turned out to be false..
Said Maliro: “Those allegations are not new. We heard about them some months ago. Following the allegations, an internal investigation was carried out. The results, however, showed that there was no theft.”
But two prison officials at the facility maintained that the maize was removed. They also gave the Weekend Nation identities of the officers involved, the driver and vehicle used to get the maize out of the facility.
Our sources said the maize in question was grown on the prison farm as part of efforts to make prisons in the country self-sufficient in food and to improve the inmates’ diet.
The sources said 150 bags of maize were removed from the prison warehouse in April on the pretext that was going for milling.
The sources alleged the maize was removed from Mikuyu Prison farm number 2 under orders which we could not independently verify.
A truck whose registration number we have withheld, took the maize to a house in a township in Zomba, said the officials.
Said the sources: “On the day the 50 bags were taken, we quizzed the driver (name withheld) who revealed that he was taking the maize to one of the senior officers’ house. The next day, there was another order to take out 100 bags and distribute 10 each to 10 officers based at Mikuyu. That order was carried out.
“Following this development, several concerned officers petitioned headquarters over what happened and we provided all the details of the scheme. But to our surprise, seven months have gone without any action taken on the matter,” said one prison warder.
The sources added that the disappearance of the maize has created a food deficit at the facility and prisoners would run out of food in a month’s time if the problem is not addressed quickly.
According to our sources at the prison which houses 500 inmates, the 150 bags that went missing were enough for over a month. On Tuesday, before the mini Cabinet reshuffle, the then minister of Home Affairs Grace Chiumia also feigned ignorance about the incident.
“I have asked the principal secretary at the ministry and it seems he was not made aware of this matter,” said Chiumia, now Minister of Civic Education
Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) deputy executive director Chikondi Chijozi in a telephone interview on Tuesday said the implications of the alleged theft of maize were huge.
“Although these are just allegations at this stage as the investigations by ACB are yet to be concluded, if confirmed to be true, this should be a worrisome development. The diet in the country’s prisons is already below average. Inmates eat once a day and if a prison can lose maize like that it should be disastrous. We hope the government will treat these issues seriously as they border on rights of prisoners who are in the custody of the State,” she said.
In 2007, the High Court admonished government for not providing a healthy diet in prisons across the country and ordered the State to urgently address the problem.
Again, five civil society organisations (CSOs) in 2016 asked President Peter Mutharika to intervene at the height of a food crisis in prisons by releasing some inmates with minor offences.
The country’s prisons, which hold about 14 000 inmates against its recommended capacity of 5 600, have been rocked by issues of dehumanising living conditions which include poor diet and lack of food. n