In light of the Supreme court’s judgement for the government to comply with the Ombudsman’s recommendations and directives in a report titled ‘THE PRESENT TOILING, THE FUTURE OVERBURDENED’, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has complied to one of the directives.
In the year 2016, the Office of the Ombudsman conducted an investigation into allegations of maladministration and related irregularities on the purchase and disposal of Farm Machinery under India line of credit worth 50 million United States Dollars and a report was released on 13th October, 2016. In the report, the Ombudsman directed the principal secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoA), among other things, to apologise to Malawians for selling the tractors through a press release. In today’s paper, we see the MoA complying to this directive.
The directives and recommendations made in the report are as follows:
1. Any instruction from the political authorities, Cabinet and its members to Principal Secretaries or any public official should be in writing;
2. I strongly recommend that for Loan Authorisation Bills, Parliamentarians exercise great caution whenever a waiver of notice period is proposed. I understand that members of parliament are primarily accountable to their constituents. However, where I note that standing orders are being abused and money bills are passed without proper scrutiny as it happened here, my intervention as the Public Protector is required since the consequences of their actions or inactions are grave and affect Malawians. New tax regimes are being introduced by Government and part of these taxes are used to pay back such types of loans;
3. MoF is directed to stop functioning like a procuring entity for international goods and services and leave that to implementing MDAs. Instead, MoF should focus on its functions of resource mobilization, allocation and monitoring financial matters;
4. I direct MoF to improve their record keeping and should furnish my Office with measures put in place to this effect. This should be done within 30 days from the date of this report;
5. To ensure that the officials are not given blank cheques, Loan Authorisation Bills should be specific. I strongly recommend that vague terms such as ‘OVOP related, goods and services’ should not appear in the bills. In the present context, they are as good as blank cheques. The bills should be comprehensive with information;
6. The MoA must build on its initial performance report of the tractors and prepare a comprehensive report on present and future accessibility of the farm machinery. The report must be explicit on the conditions of omnipresent accessibility of the farm machinery by local farmers. This report should be submitted to my Office within 30 days from the date of this report;
7. Green Belt Initiative and MoA must prepare reports on poor performance of equipment which should include issues of problematic installations, poor quality equipment and faulty machines. These reports must be forwarded to ODPP within 30 days from the date of this report;
8. The Principal Secretary of MoF should apologise to Malawians for buying equipment with archaic technology which is currently sitting idle and deteriorating at Plant Vehicle Hire and Engineering Services, thus, unnecessarily indebting Malawians. The apology should be unequivocal and through Press Releases to run in the two daily newspapers and two radio and TV stations (one public and one private) for three consecutive weeks. This should be done within 30 days from the date of this report;
9. MoF should give an account to the country of how much has been collected from the sale of the farm machinery against how much is supposed to be collected within 30 days from the date of this report;
10. The sale of the tractors was illegal but I cannot direct the cancellations of sale agreements between bonafide buyers and willing sellers. This leaves me with no any other option but to direct MoA to apologise to Malawians for selling the tractors. The apology should be unequivocal and through Press Releases to run in the two daily newspapers and two radio and TV stations (one public and one private) for three consecutive weeks. This should be done within 30 days from the date of this report;
11. The officials who were members of Internal Procurement Committee presided over the sale of the farm machinery and benefitted from the sale should be prosecuted in accordance with the Procurement Act. I will write the Director of Public of Prosecutions in accordance with Section 126 (c) of the Constitution of the RepPublished by: Khumbo Mwalwimba