Graft busters in the southern Africa’s nation of Malawi on Tuesday raided a house belonging to Agriculture Minister George Chaponda, seizing $276,000 cash in the process.
Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) deputy director Reyneck Matemba said during the raid the investigators seized cash in both local and foreign currencies amounting to $276,000.
Matemba said the graft busting body deposited the money with the central bank for safe-keeping.
The raid followed a recommendation by commission of inquiry that probed transactions surrounding Malawi importation of 100,000 tonnes of maize from neighbouring Zambia.
The inquiry last week recommended that the graft busting body should probe the role the Malawi agriculture minister played in the matter as his conduct of involving an intermediary was “suspicious.”
Matemba has, however, said it was too early to connect the cash seized from the minister’s house to the maize importation scam.
“As ACB we are not saying the figures are connected to the maize issue, no. It will be too premature to say so. Our investigations are still underway,” Matemba told privately-owned Nation Newspaper.
A political scientist from the University of Malawi Boniface Dulani has said with the current public pressure on the issue, the best that Chaponda could have done was to resign to remove any doubt about the integrity of the investigations.
“For him to step aside, it’s not an admission of guilt but rather to actually tell the public that he has nothing to hide and that he should be fully investigated without anyone doubting the honesty of the probe,” he said.
Dulani faulted Malawi leader Peter Mutharika for remaining silent on the matter, arguing the development reflected badly on his leadership as well as his priorities.
“Much as we are saying Honourable Chaponda should have done the honourable thing and resigned, I think the President should have forced him to resign or could have sacked him from Cabinet. Otherwise this is really reflecting badly on him and also gives an impression that Chaponda is a sacred cow,” the paper quoted him as saying.
Other experts have also called for either resignation or dismissal of Chaponda.
A legal expert Danwood Chirwa said the minister should be fired if he fails to resign.
“The most responsible thing to do is for the minister impugned to resign. If they do not, they must be fired immediately,” said Chirwa.
He said the President should not maintain someone whose moral turpitude has been called into question.
Chirwa asked the President to uphold the Constitution and “demonstrate that he cares about the rule of law by dismissing the minister without delay and allowing the crime fighting agencies to do their work freely.”
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Zambia-Malawi maize saga recently called for a probe on Chaponda and disciplinary action to Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) management for their roles in the maize-gate scam.
Presenting its findings to President Mutharika in Lilongwe the Chairperson of the Commission, former Chief Justice Anastanzia Msosa faulted the minister’s involvement with Trans Globe Limited saying it smacked corruption.
She also faulted the Admarc for taking short-cuts in the procurement of the maize and in the handling of contracts with the Zambian traders.
“We found that the procurement of the maize was flouted with discrepancies in such that government procedures were not followed and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs as government’s legal advisor was by-passed,” read Msosa, adding that state-owned was “grossly negligent” in the way it handled the contracts.
On Chaponda, Msosa said the Commission found that “the conduct of the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development in dealing with Trans Globe Limited to sell maize to Admarc was suspicious”.
The Commission in its recommendations called for further investigation on Chaponda by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on his involvement with Trans Globe Limited.
The maize-gate scandal involving Malawi’s importation of 100,000 metric tonnes of maize from neighbouring Zambia is haunting both nations.
Senior politicians and bureaucrats in Malawi and Zambia are under fire over their controversial handling of $34.5 million maize deal.
Local media reports alleged possible irregularities during a government purchase of 100,000 metric tonnes of maize from Zambia.
According to the paper, Malawi’s state-owned grain marketer, Admarc, purchased a consignment of maize for $34.5 million from a private company instead of buying the maize directly from the Zambian government at $21.5 million.
Malawi had been importing maize from neighbouring countries to feed 6.5 million of its citizens who are in need of food aid.