Alliance talks tough on tractorgate apology

Alliance Against Serious and Organised Corruption has said government’s regret over the flawed procurement and disposal of archaic farm equipment purchased using $50 million (about K37 billion) borrowed funds in 2012, is not enough.

Instead, the alliance comprising CCAP Synod of Livingstonia’s Church and Society Programme, Malawi Law Society, Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation and Youth and Society, wants beneficiaries of the scam probed, to recover taxpayers’ money.

These tractors were among the controversial fleet

Meanwhile, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions spokesperson, Pilirani Masanjala, has said since the alliance wants the matter probed, police are better placed to handle the case as it entails instituting an investigation.

Principal Secretary (PS) for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development alongside Secretary to the Treasury risked serving three years in jail or paying a fine if they were convicted of contempt of court had the court granted Ombudsman Martha Chizuma’s wish in a case that was set for hearing today.

Wants truth on tractors: Chizuma

In the apology dated July 9 2019 and published verbatim on Page 6 of our sister newspaper, The Nation, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development PS Grey Nyandule-Phiri said the ministry failed to conduct a proper needs assessment in the beneficiary institutions to guide on the equipment to be bought using the loan from the Government of India.

But, speaking during a media briefing on Friday in Mzuzu, the alliance’s chairperson, Moses Mkandawire, stressed that the apology is not enough as resources were abused and there is need to account for them.

He said Malawians are being burdened with repaying loans that will affect many generations, yet the leaders are being irresponsible in management of such resources.

“The $50 million that was approved in procuring the tractors would have helped in the development of this country but the resources were mismanaged. The apology that has come through, for us, it is not enough looking at the manner in which the tractors were [shared] among those involved.

“We will be able to look at that and analyse it and ensure that individuals that benefitted should be held accountable. The money involved was a loan and our children and generations to come will be paying those loans despite that their parents never benefited,” said Mkandawire.

He also called on the public, media and other stakeholders to join in the fight against corruption to ensure that Malawians benefit from resources.

Livingstonia Synod Church and Society Programme mining and governance project coordinator Paul Mvula said corruption in Malawi has also heavily affected the mining industry, a sector that has the potential to help the country move out of poverty.

He said leaders have abused the industry because of greed, and locals have failed to benefit from it.

In February this year, the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal backed the Ombudsman and ruled that the two public officers [PSs]should issue “a public apology for buying equipment that was archaic and sitting idle and deteriorating, thus unnecessarily indebting Malawians and for the illegal selling of the tractors”.

In an earlier interview, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, whose office is the chief legal adviser to the government, said the State would comply with the determination by the Ombudsman.

Initially, the Attorney General had described the demand for the apology as unreasonable and was favoured by the High Court, but the Ombudsman successfully appealed the decision.

Ruling on the appeal, the Supreme Court said the Ombudsman’s Office acted within its mandate by ordering the respective offices to comply with its order for a public apology on how they managed the procurement and disposal.

Besides the apology, the Ombudsman, in a 48-page October report titled ‘The Present Toiling, The Future Overburdened’, also recommended prosecution of the members of the internal procurement committee (IPC) and “those who presided over the sale of the farm machinery and benefited from the sale should be prosecuted in accordance with the Procurement Act”.

The farm equipment was bought using part of the $50 million line of credit from Export-Import Bank of India with the aim of facilitating mechanisation of agriculture in the country.

The farm machinery in question included 100 tractors and 144 maize shellers. In total, 177 tractors were bought for distribution to agriculture development divisions (ADDs) to enable smallholder farmers graduate to mechanisation by hiring the equipment.

However, only 77 tractors were distributed to ADDs while 100 were sold.

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