Former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda yesterday started the fight for his political life by pleading not guilty to corruption-related charges linked to the controversial procurement of maize from Zambia.
As the State paraded its first witness—former Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe—it became a matter of whether the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stalwart, alongside his co-accused, will swim to safety or sink.
In his testimony before the Blantyre Magistrate Court, Mulumbe said Chaponda did not directly instruct him to buy maize from Transglobe Produce Export Limited.
“I can say at no point did Chaponda instruct me to buy maize from Transglobe,” Mulumbe told the court.
But, said Mulumbe, Chaponda did refer Transglobe to him as a potential supplier and that he made follow up phone calls to enquire about the company’s status in the maize deal.
Mulumbe also said that one of the directors at Transglobe Produce Export Limited, Rashid Tayub, approached him for a possible deal to supply the staple grain to Admarc.
Chaponda and Tayub were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in July this year on charges to related to the controversial procurement of maize from Zambia.
In his testimony, Mulumbe said Chaponda was unhappy with the performance of Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF) during meetings of the humanitarian response committee headed by Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
Said Mulumbe: “It was at these meetings that Chaponda expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of the supplier [ZCF]. He said he did not see any point why we should be importing maize when there was a lot in the country already.
“After these meetings, Chaponda called me asking about Transglobe and I told him I don’t have an offer from them. In all our meetings, he [the former minister] was only focusing on Transglobe.”
He said a few days later the former minister, who is also governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice-president responsible for Southern Region and Mulanje South West member of Parliament (MP), forwarded him an e-mail from Transglobe attached with a copy of an export licence.
Asked by lead counsel for the defence team, Tamando Chokhotho, why Admarc declined to offer Transglobe the contract to supply maize, Mulumbe said he could not do so because the company failed to follow the set procedures.
He said Transglobe had twice requested for an audience with him and he saw no need for the company to directly negotiate with him for the contract when Admarc had advertised in the country’s two daily newspapers calling for prospective suppliers.
“We had put the advert in the newspapers, but instead Transglobe directors were coming to talk to us. There was no need for them to do that,” said Mulumbe.
Earlier, State counsel Macmillan Chakhala said they would only parade two witnesses because the other was in India and would not be available until next month while other witnesses are MPs who are currently meeting in Lilongwe.
Chaponda is answering to three charges out of the four, which include giving false information to the ACB, influencing a public officer to misuse his position and illegal possession of foreign currency.
On the other hand, Tayub is answering charge of persuading a public officer to misuse his position. They both pleaded not guilty.
The State indicated it would parade 22 witnesses to testify against in the case.