Parliament’s Agriculture Committee yesterday queried State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) to disclose the source of the K5 billion for the purchase of pigeon peas (nandolo).
The committee posed the question when it met Admarc, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism and Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development on the the corporation’s pigeon peas purchases following a presidential directive.
Chaired by Nsanje West legislator Joseph Chidanti Malunga, the committee also wanted to know if the procurement of the commodity was budgeted for.
In response, Ministry of Finance representatives said Admarc is buying pigeon peas outside the 2018/19 National Budget and that it does not know where the corporation will get money for the procurement exercise.
Said one official: “There are two issues we can talk about. One is based on the amount of money that is set aside. There is no money set aside in the 2018/19 budget. And because of that, we will not say anything on where the money will come from.”
But the response did not impress the committee and Malunga demanded disclosure of the source of funds against a background that Admarc was given a K45 billion bailout earlier this year.
In her response, Admarc chief executive officer Margret Roka Mauwa confirmed that Admarc is buying pigeon peas. She said the corporation was using funds carried over from the 2017/18 budget, a response which invited more critical questions from Malunga.
She said Admarc was given K5 billion for maize purchases which was approved by Parliament.
Mauwa’s response stirred tension in the room before Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism Principal Secretary Ken Ndala chipped in to clarify on the source of money that has enabled Admarc to purchase about 500 metric tonnes of pigeon peas at K230 per kilogramme (kg) to date.
Later, a Ministry of Finance representatives changed tune and told the committee that the pigeon peas funds were from the Unforeseen Circumstances Vote.
In an interview later, Ndala said government had been exporting the commodity to India.
He said: “The issue is that we have been having markets to India. We have been exporting before, but the challenge is that the country now grows a lot of pigeon peas.”
In his comment to the media, Malunga said the objective of the meeting was to find out the circumstances surrounding the buying of the commodity considering that buyers are using public funds which are allocated in Parliament.
President Peter Mutharika’s directive on Admarc to buy the legume at K230/kg came after many smallholder farmers had sold the same to vendors at as low as K40/kg triggered speculation that the move was designed to reward politicians in power and their cronies who bought the commodity at a low price from farmers.
Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is leading the United Transformation Movement (UTM), and the movement’s national chairperson Noel Masangwi claimed during political rallies that some politicians and their cronies were the targeted beneficiaries of the directive. n