Opposition members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday took to task Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda to clarify allegations that he was meddling in maize import deals to get a cut.
The first business of the fourth meeting of the 46th session of Parliament started with the Ministerial Statement on the Food Situation in the country during which Chaponda said government had bought 113 000 metric tonnes (MT) out of 300 000MT required for the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) for humanitarian purposes.
Chaponda: This is news to me
He also said State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) had procured 105 000MT out of 300 000MT for commercial purposes.
But the MPs, led by leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera, were more interested on maize import deals.
In his question to the minister, Chakwera, who is also Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president, sought clarification on plans by government to buy maize from Brazil with reports that the deal fell through because the minister allegedly demanded a cut from the deal.
Said Chakwera: “There has been news that the government would import maize from Brazil, but Admarc is not involved in the deal, but the Minister of Agriculture who has been promised cuts in the deal. I will not make conclusions, but would rather hear from the minister himself.”
But Rumphi East MP Kamlepo Kalua (People’s Party-PP) was not so diplomatic in his language, accusing Chaponda of being corrupt.
The controversial and outspoken legislator said he had it “on good authority” that Chaponda visited Brazil to discuss a maize deal.
But Chaponda described the allegations as speculation aimed at tarnishing his image.
He said: “I would like to make it clear that this speculation in social media being perpetrated by people will not help this country. This issue about Brazil is news to me. Nobody entered into a deal to procure maize from there.”
Chaponda demanded that Kalua should bring evidence to substantiate his allegations that he visited Brazil.
Coming to the rescue of Chaponda, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe contradicted him to inform the House that Brazil was considered, but it was found that all maize would be genetically modified and that landing costs for maize imports were considered too high at more than $345 per tonne.
Said Gondwe: “Maize importation will be from Zambia and Romania, we have been there [Romania], the maize is of good quality and Admarc could get a large amount from there at an acceptable price.”
Chaponda also received the flack for removing subsidy on commercial maize which will be sold at K12 500 per 50kg bag at Admarc.
Leader of PP in Parliament Uladi Mussa demanded to know if government approved the maize price hike recently announced by President Peter Mutharika and Chaponda received murmurs of ‘shame, shame’ when he confirmed.
Chaponda’s elaboration that there would have been punitive measures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) if government had opted not to sell at a commercial price only served to anger the opposition MPs some more.
“Who decided to remove the subsidised maize? I wonder that government is fearing the IMF programme but it is not fearing the loss of life of its own people,” said Mangochi Monkey Bay MP Ralph Jooma (PP), a former minister of Economic Planning and Development.
However, Chaponda did not respond to this query or the questions on what the trip to Zambia had yielded.
By The Nation / Suzgo Khunga