Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Goodall Gondwe has trashed Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda’s claims implicating him in the controversial $34.5 million Zambia-Malawi maize deal.
The two are both vice presidents for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and some quarters suggest the exchange between them could be a sign of deep divisions in the party.
However, the party has said the conflict between the two is not a party matter.
Gondwe’s reaction come following Chaponda’s assertions that he was surprised that the Finance Minister was not dragged to appear before the Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the maize deal.
The committee summoned Chaponda and other government officials to explain how they played their roles into the maize deal.
Some of those that appeared included former Secretary to Treasury Ronald Mangani, Reserve Bank Governor Charles Chuka and Chief Executive Officer for Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) Foster Mulumbe.
Asked what he made of Chaponda’s assertions on Thursday this week, Gondwe said his counterpart was wrong to try to drag him into the maize deal.
“He was wrong because the Secretary to Treasury and the Reserve Bank Governor have testified. I don’t have anything more to say,” he said.
Gondwe said perhaps Chaponda wanted him to testify because the deal was also a finance matter.
“As far as the Ministry of Finance is concerned, we did not play any role. We only facilitated the process of Letter of Credit which was done by the Reserve Bank of Malawi and I just agreed that they should go ahead,” said Gondwe.
Asked if the development has not brought tension between the two and in the party, Gondwe said: “Not at all. We are not as divided as some parties are.”
DPP Spokesperson Francis Kasaila said if the development comes to affect the party, internal mechanisms will handle the situation.
“Honourable Chaponda was expressing a personal view on the matter. We do not see the party being dragged into the matter. If it brings tension, we have mechanisms to deal with those tensions,” said Kasaila.
However, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) said the finger pointing between the two senior two senior cabinet ministers does not set a good example.
“Being top leaders in both government and the ruling DPP, they are expected to conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. Throwing the ball to each other clearly shows that something is grossly wrong. Certainly, this does not paint a good picture in as far as collective decision making is concerned,” said CCP National Secretary Martin Chiphwanya.
Chiphwanya said from the allegations made on the maize saga, it is clear that different actors played different roles in the matter.
“It would therefore be proper that investigating agencies and units investigate this thoroughly to determine if at all there was improper conduct. If Honourable Chaponda in any way suggests that Honourable Gondwe acted in an improper manner, then let him (Gondwe) be investigated as well.
“This will help to clear the mist and at the same time offer him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. In the spirit of transparency and accountability, all those mentioned should clarify their role,” he said.
Chaponda has been under pressure to resign and this subject cropped up in Parliament yesterday when Malawi Congress Party lawmaker for Lilongwe South, Peter Dimba, asked Chaponda to explain the reasons behind his clinging to the ministerial position when both the joint parliamentary committee and presidential commissions of inquiry recommend corruption investigations on him.
Dimba also asked Chaponda what the Ministry of Agriculture, as a policy holder, will do to the senior officials at Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) who flouted procurement procedures in the Zambia maize procurement process and need to be investigated for corruption.
“Madam first Deputy Speaker, why is he not stepping aside to pave way for investigations into fraud that he has been implicated in?” Dimba said.
Chaponda, who as per tradition in Parliament thanked Dimba for the question, said he was wondering whether the question was really supplementary or a separate question.
Dimba had risen for a supplementary question but asked a totally different question from what the preceding Member of Parliament had asked.
Chaponda said the report from joint parliamentary committee was presented in Parliament but the debate on it has not started and it is not good to advance what he described as personal vendetta.
He justified his failure to resign by saying there are some Parliamentarians answering cases but are not resigning from their positions in Parliament.
“We have people [that] are being investigated for tractors here, why are they not stepping aside? We have people with treason cases here, why are they not stepping aside? Why are people forcing me to step aside?” Chaponda said.
But Member of Parliament for Rumphi East, Kamlepo Kalua, rose and said it is Chaponda who involved himself in corrupt dealings.
“We still have not come up with inquiry to bring findings on tractors. And for the treason charges the court has even quashed such cases. But it is him alone who was involved in corrupt Zambia maize procurement dealings. It is him alone who was involved in a corrupt contract with Kaloswe. It is him alone…,” Kalua said before his microphone got switched off.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Esther Mcheka Chilenje, came in to cool the tempers that had started flying on both sides of the house and said for the sake of progress Parliamentarians needed some respect for each other. — Additional reporting by Moses Chitsulo