Foster Mulumbe, former Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) boss, Tuesday told the Blantyre Magistrates’ Court how sacked Agriculture minister George Chaponda forced him to award a maize deal to Transglobe Produce Exports Limited.
Mulumbe’s testimony gave first hand insights into how Chaponda wanted Admarc to buy maize from Transglobe, a giant commodity produce company in the country.
This was after the minister got frustrated with delays by the Zambian Cooperative Federation (ZCF) to supply emergency maize at a time it was believed that over six million Malawians were in need of food.
He told the court that he was under pressure to set up a meeting with Transglobe directors after delays, on the Zambian side, to bring in maize to ease hunger which was reported to have affected seven million people at one point.
Mulumbe, who was Chief Executive Officer for Admarc, is the first State witness lined up against Chaponda and Transglobe’s Rashid Tayub, who are both accused of corruption.
The pressure, he told the court, started after the first meeting with a team from Zambia.
He said Chaponda expressed concern over the performance of ZCF.
“There was a committee known as humanitarian
response which was headed by the Vice-President and a number of ministries were represented in that committee. It was at these meetings that Chaponda expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of the supplier. He mentioned that he did not see the point why we would be importing maize when there was a lot of maize in the country,” Mulumbe said.
Mulumbe said these sentiments were echoed during meetings that followed.
“It was after these meetings that Chaponda called me asking about Transglobe and I told him I did not have an offer from them. In all our meetings, he was only focusing on Transglobe and a few days later he forwarded me an email from Transglobe with an export license attached,” Mulumbe said.
The two were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau in July after President Peter Mutharika instituted an investigation into the procurement of maize from Zambia.
Chaponda pleaded not guilty to three counts of corruptly performing functions, misuse of public office and illegal possession of foreign currency. Tayub also pleaded not guilty to the charge of influencing a public officer to misuse public office.
During cross examination, lead counsel for the defence team, Tamando Chokhotho, asked Mulumbe to explain why Admarc refused the offer from Transglobe and his allegation that they were going through the then minister of Agriculture.
In his response, Mulumbe accused Transglobe of not following laid out procedures for the supply of maize.
“There was no need for them to talk to us. According to the advert that we issued, we requested potential suppliers to take their products to our depots; instead, Transglobe directors were coming to talk to us. There was no need for them to come to us,” Mulumbe said.
Mulumbe could, however, not directly explain how Chaponda influenced him to offer the contract to Transglobe Produce Exports Limited.
“Directly, I can say [that] at no point did Chaponda instruct me to buy maize from Transglobe, but you have seen the emails from Chaponda that were sent to him from Tayub. He made calls, asking me if I had anything from Transglobe and, during our meetings, he mentioned a number of suppliers, of which Transglobe stood out,” Mulumbe said.