Malawi

Malawi: Heads roll as investigations continue into grain corruption

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JOHANNESBURG, 12 February (IRIN) - Malawi on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of two senior government officials accused of obstructing investigations into the sale of the country's strategic maize reserves which added to the country's food crisis.
Finance Director of the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) Paul Chimenya and an accounts assistant Clement Nyirenda, were arrested after they tried to prevent investigators from the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) from examining the agency's records.

"The men accused had deliberately tried to foil our attempts to probe the agency's books. On Friday they were arrested and charged with obstruction. Mr Chimenya is also being investigated for awarding himself contracts to transport maize to the NFRA," ACB Director Michael Mtega told IRIN.

Over three million people in Malawi are struggling to cope with the worst food emergency in recent years. While a severe drought lies at the heart of the problem, observers have also blamed the sale of the emergency grain reserve as contributing to the shortages.

Almost 160,000 mt of grain was sold from the strategic grain reserves in August 2000, of which 60,000 mt was exported to Kenya.

Since the start of its investigation into the matter, the ACB has named several parliamentarians, from both the opposition and the ruling party, who bought maize from the grain reserve for resale in different markets.

In August last year, former Poverty Alleviation Minister Leonard Mangulama was sacked by President Bakili Muluzi for alleged corruption in the sale of the reserves.

Magulama was named in an ACB report into the case, which accused him of acquiring 300 mt of maize without paying for it.

More recently, a commission of inquiry to investigate the alleged mismanagement of the state-run Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) said Finance Minister Friday Jumbe, who was then head of ADMARC, would be probed to determine if he had "unduly" benefited from the sale of the maize. The commission's findings have not yet been made public.

"All the necessary people have been interviewed and a report will soon be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for necessary actions. The outcome of the investigations will determine whether or not more arrests will follow," Mtega said.

The government has blamed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for forcing it to sell at least part of the reserve in 2000 to reduce debt, an accusation denied by the IMF.

The IMF countered that Malawi sold the maize after advice from a food consultant, hired by the government in a European Union-funded project.

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