Malawi’s Ombudsperson says she is getting death threats for investigating the sale of tractors which were meant to be used by smallholder farmers as part of the Green Belt Initiative.
The Ombudsperson, Martha Chimuza-Mwagonde, is investigating the issue of 177 tractors and 144 maize shellers which were sold to government officials and other individuals at low prices.
The tractors and shellers were expected to be used at an agriculture scheme in Salima funded by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank).
But they did not reach intended beneficiaries as they were sold at the giveaway price of K5 million even though they were bought two years earlier at K37 million each. Only 600-million kwacha was raised from the sale of the tractors which means Malawians will have to repay a huge part of the loan which was used to purchase the tractors.
In May, Mwangonde began demanding answers on the sale of the tractors from Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.
“It is alleged that these tractors have not reached the intended beneficiaries. It is further alleged that [they] have been sold to senior public officers, contrary to the justification put before the National Assembly when the loan authorisation was being debated and authority sought,” she wrote the ministry.
However, Mwangonde said she has been on the receiving threats since she began her investigations
“I’ve been told on many occasions by different people that I need to take care of myself’,” she told the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi.
The constitution gives the ombudsman power to investigate reports of abuse of power or injustice by government officials and when they find evidence of corruption they hand over the cases to the Anti-Corruption Bureau or the director of public prosecution to prosecute.
Mwangonde however admitted that it is difficult to deal with government departments.
“From my experience I would put compliance at 50/50. No wonder my predecessors decided to simply let sleeping dogs lie,” she said.
People who benefited from the sale of the tractors include minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Minister Francis Kasaila and Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya.
Mulli Brothers Holdings and Bineth Farm which is owned the family of late Bingu wa Mutharika also bought some tractors at low prices.