Police have arrested 19 people, including those selling inputs to farmers, for various malpractices in the implementation of the K160 billion Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).
In a telephone interview yesterday, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said the suspects were found selling underweight inputs bags and collecting national identity cards from beneficiaries of the programme.
He was responding to an enquiry from The Nation on allegations that some police officers, chiefs and vendors were involved in malpractices in the programme which have in turn exploited the beneficiaries.
While confirming receipt of such reports and that police were monitoring the situation, Kadadzera said the arrests have been effected in parts of Kasungu, Zomba, Dowa, Ntcheu and Blantyre.
He said: “We cannot rule out that there are no police officers that have such intentions or involved in such malpractices.
“But those have to be reported to their seniors. Those with complaints should go to the officers-in-charge directly and report such malpractices.”
According to a screenshot of an internal police WhatsApp communication we have seen, there are allegations that some police officers are not helping beneficiaries when they report their complaints and that some of them are involved in the AIP malpractices.
The communication alleges that traditional leaders in some areas are also obtaining national IDs from beneficiaries for their own use and in some instances, priority is being given to vendors unless the beneficiaries pay bribes.
But Kadadzera yesterday said as police, they are monitoring all selling points nationwide, insisting that they are helping beneficiaries that report their complaints; hence, the arrests that have so far been made.
The arrests also come at a time when a Civil Society Agriculture Network report exposed challenges in the AIP, among others, system and network challenges which are causing delays in the distribution exercise and in turn creating loopholes for malpractices among suppliers, with some demanding bribes to assist beneficiaries.
But in a telephone interview yesterday, Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe said the ministry is working on the allegations for a smooth administration of the AIP.
“In fact, as a ministry, we had a management meeting today [yesterday] where all managers in the programme [AIP], including district agricultural development officers, and others were present and those issues were raised.
“So everyone has been oriented on how we should address such issues because we have noted that farmers are being taken advantage of, and so come Friday, there should be some changes,” he said.
Some of the areas where the alleged malpractices are taking place include Chileka and Limbe in Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Kasungu, Rumphi, Phalombe, Mitundu in Lilongwe, Mulanje, Thyolo and Zomba.