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Malawi President Fires Cabinet Minister Over Maize Deal Scandal


FILE - Bags of maize ready for distribution at Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi (photo taken by Lameck Masina).
FILE - Bags of maize ready for distribution at Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi (photo taken by Lameck Masina).

Malawi’s president has fired his minister of agriculture after investigators found cash worth nearly $200,000 in the minister’s home. The raid was part of ongoing investigations into what has been deemed a suspicious maize procurement process from Zambia.

The country's agriculture minister, George Chaponda, is under investigation following a recommendation from a government commission of inquiry that was formed in January to probe the recent purchase of 100,000 tons of maize from Zambia.

Chaponda is accused of flouting procurement procedures. Documents leaked to local media in December point to irregularities. They would appear to indicate that Malawi paid $13 million more than it should have. Local media dubbed the scandal “maizegate.”

Chaponda denied wrongdoing and refused calls to resign. His dismissal by the president comes just a day after the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) raided Chaponda’s home. The ACB says it seized cash in various currencies, including $58,000 and 124 million Malawian kwacha.

Police are also investigating a fire that gutted Chaponda's office last week, destroying documents.

Billy Mayaya is the chair of the National Right to Food Network, one of the civil society organizations that long has pushed for greater transparency in the maize-procurement process.

“I think the action of the president is too little too late because the level of corruption in Malawi is broad-based. It includes other ministers who are still holding power therefore Chaponda is just a fall guy in the DPP,”said Mayaya.

The DPP is the ruling party.

Malawi’s government has struggled to regain credibility after the massive ‘Cashgate’ scandal in 2013 caused foreign donors to cut large amounts of aid. When he took office the following year, President Peter Mutharika pledged zero tolerance on corruption and mismanagement.

Sherriff Kaisi is a political scientist. He says the handling of “maizegate” is encouraging.

“We would recommend what the Anti-Corruption Bureau has done to have this good story that one of the people who has been there misappropriating government funds is finally out of office,” said Kaisi.

But for Malawians, this new discovery of cash stashed in suitcases at a government official’s home has called to mind unpleasant memories of Cashgate and cast doubt on the progress made against corruption.