Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, George Chaponda is suing Times Group for defamation on a series of stories it has been publishing highlighting his alleged wrongdoing in his role in the involvement of a local firm, Transglobe, in Malawi’s questionable procurement of relief maize from Zambia.
In a Civil Cause number 55 of 2017, Chaponda is claiming damages from Times Group Editor-In-Chief and Malawi News editor George Kasakula, the Daily Times editor Innocent Chitosi and The Sunday Times editor Chachacha Munthali.
Chaponda is also seeking damages from Times reporter Alick Ponje and Daily Times assistant editor Madalitso Mussa.
He claims that the scribes “falsely and maliciously” published defamatory words of the minister and that the Sunday Times positioned Chaponda’s picture against a headline of ‘Epitome of Decadence’ an opinion piece, claiming it was calculated to portray the minister as a morally rotten person.
Chaponda is claiming damages for libel, exemplary and aggravated damages for libel and legal costs.
But Times editor-in-chief Kasakula has challenged Chaponda that the news organisation “stand by all the stories and commentaries” it has published on maizegate scandal.
Kasakula said they are ready to meet Chaponda in court.
Chaponda had sued Times before a report was presented to President Peter Mutharika at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe by the commission of inquiry that has been investigating the maize procurement from Zambia headed by retired Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa.
The report recommends that Chaponda needs to be investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
In its recommendations, the report says, in part: “The dealings between the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Dr. George Chaponda, MP, in this procurement process should be further investigated by the ACB as the manner in which Transglobe obtained an export permit from the Ministry of Agriculture of Zambia to supply maize to Admarc raises suspicion.”
In its findings, the commission describes two visits by Chaponda to Zambia as necessary ones. The first one was to hold negotiations with his counterpart to persuade the Zambia Government to allow the importation of maize by Malawi, while the second was as a special envoy to persuade the Zambian Government to lift a maize export ban that government had just imposed, it added.
However, the commission found that in the role as an envoy, Chaponda went beyond the two official mandates and bordered on interference with the procurement process.
Says the report: “First, the minister attempted to influence Admarc as to who should supply maize under the ZCF contract from the Zambian side.
The report notes that Chaponda personally asked Admarc to buy maize from Transglobe, a Malawian company with maize stocks in Chipata.
“This request was rejected by Admarc, which had signed a contract with ZCF. Admarc confirmed that Transglobe indeed approached them on several occasions on this matter. Secondly, the minister advised Transglobe to go and meet officials in the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia to negotiate an export permit to supply part of the 100 000 metric tons of maize that was agreed in the contract between Admarc and ZCF,” adds the report.
Chronicling several questionable developments, the report says when Chaponda went to Zambia as a special envoy, a Tayub of Transglobe was also in Zambia meeting with officials in the Ministry of Agriculture.
The commission found two notable things about this development: the first being that the export ban was lifted and the second being that the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia issued export licences to both ZCF and Transglobe, splitting the contract tonnage of 100 000 metric tonnes that was contracted between ZCF and Admarc in equal share of 50 000 metric tonnes with Transglobe.
“This development cannot be attributed to coincidence. It raises suspicion in relation to dealings between the minister and Transglobe. One can, therefore, not rule out the possibility of corrupt dealings between the two parties,” the report states.