Defence lawyers have insisted that they still want the State to include the African Development Bank (AfDB) as a witness in a case where four Fisd directors and an accountant from the Ministry of Agriculture are accused of receiving double payment in the bank’s funded project.
During hearing at the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court yesterday, the State paraded another witness Emma Mbalame, a former director for water and sanitation in the Ministry of Agriculture, who was cross-examined by three defence lawyers Gift Nankhuni, Wapona Kita and Khwima Mchizi.
The lawyers took the witness through official documents, mainly communication among players in the project.
In one of the communications, which Mbalame authenticated to be true and official, the double payment was described as an error.
Asked if she personally considered the double payment an act of fraud, Mbalame said she did not believe so as the communication rightly identified it as an error.
She also told the court that besides that communication, there was more correspondence between the ministry and the bank regarding the double payment.
Later, Kita asked for adjournment to allow the witness to produce the communication, which includes emails, saying the role of the AfDB in this matter is crucial as the double payment was made by the bank.
Before the adjournment was pronounced, Mchizi was given an opportunity for cross-examination which lasted for just about two minutes and focused on one question—whether the witness was aware of the allegations levelled against the suspects she duly identified and recognised.
“You are a witness of evidence, do you know the charges against these people? I mean the allegations against these people…why these people are here?” Mchizi repeated the question as the witness seemed to struggle to respond but eventually said she was not sure.
“I am here because of the issue of double payment,” she responded, but Mchizi added another question, asking whether she thought there was any wrongdoing committed the suspects.
However, State lawyer Grace Wasili rose for an objection to these questions which was sustained.
Chief resident magistrate Madalitso Chimwaza said the witness had responded to Mchizi’s question in the affirmative and there was no need to ask the same question again.
“Thanks your worship, we wanted it on record that she does not think there is any wrongdoing,” responded Mchizi.
The matter has since been adjourned to September 11 2023 when the State is expected to submit the requested communication.
In an interview after court session, Kita said they want the State to bring a witness from the AfDB to ascertain if the double payment, which is said to be an error, was an act of fraud.
But in a separate interview, Wasili could not commit if the AfDB would be paraded as a witness, saying due to diplomatic limitations, it may not be possible. She, however, said the State intends to parade two more witnesses.
The Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (Fisd) directors, namely Moses Chirambo, Frank Mwenechanya, Kondwani Nanchukwa, Arthur Mpama and Daudi Kaunda, an accountant from the Ministry of Agriculture, were charged in June 2021 with three counts in a case they are accused of defrauding Malawi Government $325 731 (about K550 million at the current exchange rate).
Particulars of the case show that the four allegedly received the $325 731 payment from the Ministry of Agriculture despite getting a payment for the same purpose from the AfDB, government’s partner in the project they were contracted to undertake.
The ministry had awarded the company a K2.4 billion contract to construct, rehabilitate and expand gravity-fed water supply systems in Ntcheu District.