…was Lobin Lowe set up?
…Lowe did not entertain East Bridge
…details leaked to press to disgrace Lowe
Lobin Lowe, the man President Lazarus Chakwera quickly fired in relation to K750 million paid to a Barkaat Butchery in London, was set up and exposed by senior Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Government and East Bridge officials, after he rejected the barter trade, which his successor Sam Kawale has been pushing and defending, despite breaking all procurement rules.
President Chakwera has not commented or acted on East Bridge and another bad Namibian Fertiliser deals all done by Kawale, and some State House and Office of the President senior figures as he could have been aware of the developments from the start.
The Investigator Magazine has sent questions to State House on the position of President Chakwera and will publish the story based on recordings obtained on allegations made by one of East Bridge directors that makes the link to State House.
How the butchery scandal unfolded
Late September 2022, allegations of K30 billion paid to a butchery started making rounds and they were amplified by Chairperson of the Agriculture Committee in Parliament Sameer Suleiman after some national media had published the allegations.
On 12th October, then Secretary for Agriculture Sandram Maweru admitted that the ministry engaged Smallholder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRM) to process fertilizer procurement for AIP.
He said SFFRM entered into contract with Barkaat, a middleman with a production line with Yara Limited which is a well-known fertilizer supplier. The contract was for 25,000 metric tonnes and Barkaat demanded an advance payment of US$727,000 to lock the price.
He never said who identified Barkaat nor who brokered the deal, but pointed at OPC as the source of the deal.
Maweru and Lowe were fired together by President Chakwera who said the deal was unacceptable, a very bold decision by a President who appointed Lowe twice as Leader of Opposition when he resigned from Parliament to run as a presidential candidate.
Beyond Lowe has been mum as to who signed off the funds and nobody from the SFFFRM has been taken to account, raising doubts that the deal was done by a Minister and his Principal Secretary only.
OPC not Lowe okayed the Barkaat Butchery deal
Maweru told a parliamentary committee hearing that former Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zangazanga Chikhosi was the one who forced Smallholder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRM) to procure fertilizer without following procurement procedures.
On 2nd November 2022, SFFRFM Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Chikunkhuzeni also told the the joint parliamentary committee investigating the procurement that the K750 million transaction was initiated at Capital Hill.
“The transaction was initiated at Capital Hill, in which K750 million was made to Bakaart Foods Limited as advance payment for the deal since it was a condition that was given,” Chikunkhuzeni said.
In February 2022, Maweru advised Paramount Holdings to release 10,000 tonnes of NPK fertilizer to SFFRM for AIP. The company had no contract with the Ministry.
Maweru, again told the committee that it was the Office of the President and Cabinet trough then SPC Chikhosi who forced the ministry to flout procurement procedures by telling Paramount Holdings to supply 10,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer without a contract.
In both scandals, Lowe, apart from travelling to London in June of 2022 to inspect Yara, is never directly linked to the authorisation and he is said to have remained mum due to his relationship with President Lazarus Chakwera.
Kawale entertained East Bridge outside Ministry of Agriculture
Sam Kawale, then Minister of Lands was chairing the Cabinet Committee on Affordable Input Programme and in a surprising turn of events, East Bidge Srl made a presentation to the Cabinet Committee on AIP, just before the Barkaat Butchery scandal came into limelight.
The Nation of 17 June 2023 quotes the company stating, ““In furtherance of this initiative, East Bridge Estates, SRL submitted an expression of interest to the Malawi Government through the Cabinet Committee on AIP. Our company was invited to make a presentation to the Malawi Government on this proposal in October, 2022.”
The statement reveals how the Ministry of Agriculture was overtaken by Kawale, meeting East Bridge SRL which according to the Minister in his interview with Zodiak on 16th June 2023 they approached him with the fertiliser proposal.
“The question is AIP is procured largely by the Ministry of Agriculture, how did East Bridge jump the Ministry and go to a Cabinet Committee? How many suppliers have the privilege to make presentations to a Cabinet Committee to win a government contract. Everything here is irregular,” said a senior Ministry of Agriculture official.
He said it was not surprising that the Barkaat Butchery scandal was coming out at the same time East Bridge Srl was being pushed all the way up to the Cabinet without the input of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The presentations to the Cabinet Committee on AIP happened before Lowe was fired.
“All what the Minister presented to Cabinet was drafted by East Bridge,” one of the Directors of East Bridge is heard boasting making shocking revelations that Lowe had to go to get the barter deal done.
Lowe blocked East Bridge, they retaliated with Butchery scandal
The matter of paying a butchery in London originated from the OPC and State House, but since 2018 the people behind East Bridge in Malawi namely Likhwa Mussa and Ted Moya had always sought to sale the commodities exchange to the Ministry of Agriculture.
“The concept is said to have originated from Moya and then government officials under the DPP government rejected it. Some money might have been collected from Asian businesses and when it failed everyone was under pressure,” revealed a source who has been tracking the two since the matter broke out in June.
He said Lowes mistake was to dismiss desperate East Bridge directors who waged a war for his removal to replace him with “our own man.”
“The media was paid US$15,000 to US$20,000 states the East Bridge Director,” who reveals further that the German documentation was “provided by us to finish Lowe.”
The confessions reveal a conspiracy within the high echelons of the MCP Cabinet, Office of the President and Cabinet and State House, which freely gave out the documents to the media with an agenda to get rid of Lowe.
“Lowe might have been too stupid not to stop the Barkaat deal when OPC was mentioned as the one that pushed for the deal, but the exposure on the Minister of Agriculture was well planned and orchestrated with a particular motive, the public was convinced he was the villain,” said our Ministry of Agriculture source.
Why was Lowe feared in MCP
Kawale was appointed on October 26, 2022 as Minister of Agriculture and by mid-December he had pushed the East Bridge Srl deal and signed with them. The deal was never publicised until The Investigator Magazine revelaed that K273 billion sovereign guarantees were issued by the Ministry of Finance.
“Looking how this deal has been defended by the Ministry of Agriculture and the silence from the State House, even when it was obvious that it broke procurement laws. Looking at staged coverage in national media defending this illegal and ridiculous deal without critical thinking, it confirms that the conspiracy was there,” said our analyst.
Lobin Lowe, Lilongwe Central MP has been an MP for 14 years serving both MCP leaders John Tembo and Lazarus Chakwera. He was a quite gentleman but very critical on Agriculture which he was a committee member since entering parliament.
In 2019, President Lazarus Chakwera resigned as a member of Parliament and appointed Lowe as interim Leader of Opposition, a sign of growing confidence in the parliamentarian.
Chakwera in 2019 was running his last allowable term according to MCP constitution and whispers started that he was grooming Lowe, who others claim is related to the President, to take over the MCP.
The MCP legislators in July after elections elected Lowe again as Chakwera was outside parliament, a thing that did not please some senior members of the party, who wanted to have a go at the position.
“Lowe was not even the Secretary General of the party who was in Parliament. All the two vice presidents Late Sidik Mia and Harry Mkandawire was not in parliament. The dynamics were abit challenging, but he was a gentleman in his leadership,” said an MCP veteran.
He explained that the MCP at times is split as Lilongwe East versus Lilongwe West-Kasiya where President Chakwera comes from, then there are silent battles between Lilongwe versus Dowa, who in turn both Dowa and Lilongwe at times is in alliance to fight off Kasungu.
“Ken Kandodo was fired based on the same based conspiracies. People like Deputy Speaker Madalitso Kazombo are too outspoken and people think he is threat. Then you have Richard Chimwendo Banda and Secretary General Mkaka, they are different centres of power. If you add the Northern MCP battles, the undercurrents are too much without a strong leader as John Tembo was,” said the veteran.
Lowe was not available for comment and State House is yet to respond to serious allegations made against it over the East Bridge deal