There is more to the maize saga than what the nation has been made to believe.
With particular reference to the Zambian maize imports, the bone of contention seems to be the price at which the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) was supposed to procure the maize—$345 per metric tonne—which is considered way too high for the local Malawian.
There has been a blame game about who was responsible for pegging the $345 per metric tonne which made the grain trader to sell the maize at K12 500 for a 50kg bag locally. As we you are reading this now, three inquiries are underway to establish the cause of the malfeasance on the maize. There is the inquiry set by President Peter Mutharika which was supposed to submit its findings to the President on January 31, 2016; then there is the Anti-Corruption Bureau which is also probing the maize deals, and lastly, the joint Parliamentary inquiry which was in Zambia this week for the same job.
The issue which seems to be taking centre–stage is who determined the price of $345 per metric tonne. We have heard from the embattled Admarc chief executive officer that it is the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF). On its part, according to published media reports this week, ZCF says it is Admarc which proposed the price.
Now here is the bomb shell. Admarc had two more local contracts to purchase maize at far much higher prices than the Zambian deal. For now, we shall call the firms X and Z. On May 24, 2016 Admarc signed a contract with X to supply 100 000 metric tonnes of maize to the grain trader at $360 per metric tonne. Then in June 2016 Admarc signed another contract with Z to supply maize at $350 metric tonne. The maize was supposed to be delivered in Lilongwe.
If the Zambia price of $345 per metric tonne was way too high, then what was the $350 and $360 per metric tonnes?
I am not the judge in this. But my concern is that Admarc used taxpayers’ money to buy the maize. Parliament approved billions of Kwacha for the State grain trader to purchase the maize. It, therefore, goes without saying that the taxpayers should have value for their money.
My plea to the three bodies probing the maize saga is that they should act expeditiously, albeit, without compromising due diligence. They should also not limit their probes to the Zambia maize deals. My suspicion is that Admarc’s local contracts with X and Z are just a tip of the iceberg regarding what might have been happening on the local scene. Only the other day our sister paper The Nation revealed that Admarc has canceled two maize contracts for a Mexican and Romanian companies to import maize. We have no clue how much the taxpayer was supposed to cough for those contracts.
In fact, while the focus is on the Zambian maize imports, I wish to request the local civil society organizations that are so far doing a good job on governance issues to extend their tentacles to other issues to do with procurements in the public sector. Already there is the K577 billion audit report—which was reduced to K236 billion. Nothing seems to be moving on this issue. Parliament was last week supposed to announce names of the firms or individuals implicated in the report. It didn’t. The nation was told this is because the Speaker is outside the country. I don’t believe the work of the whole Parliament can come to a standstill on this issue simply because the Speaker is away. Why do we have two deputy Speakers? We expect the opposition to use their numerical power in the House to make the Executive account for what they are doing. Let nothing about the maize be swept under the carpet.