The High Court has extended the suspension of any activities relating to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) until Friday this week when an inter-partes hearing will take place.
Presiding judge Kenyatta Nyirenda was on Friday expected to determine whether Fisp operations should continue, but adjourned the hearing to this Friday to give ample time to the case.
This follows an interim order for stay of all operations under the programme granted to Transglobe Produce Exports Limited after it was dropped from participating in the programme.
Effectively, the order meant that the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and the Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRFM) could not continue with the exercise until a judicial review is done.
Lawyer representing Transglobe Produce Exports Limited, Lusungu Gondwe, said in an interview yesterday the court extended the suspension after the defendants delayed to serve them with the documents challenging the matter.
He said: “They served us with the documents very late. Some of them were served on Thursday around 3:30pm and some on Friday, the day of hearing, around midday so we were handicapped to prepare.
“So, we asked for time up to Tuesday to look at the documents and understand them as well as to consult with our client on some of the evidential issues they raised.”
Gondwe said they requested for Tuesday because they appreciate the importance of Fisp to the country and wished the matter could be “resolved yesterday”.
He said: “We didn’t want a lengthy adjournment, but the court adjourned to Friday because the judge also acknowledged that the documents were served very late so it was only fair that enough time is given to read and understand their arguments before replying but the status quo remains that the order continues.”
The Attorney General (AG) and lawyers for SFFRFM were not available yesterday for comment, but in an earlier interview with The Nation, AG Charles Mhango declined to comment on the matter.
Besides restraining the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and SFFRFM from further distributing coupons, the court also ordered all the suppliers to stop selling the inputs under the programme.
SFFRFM approved 14 companies out of the 32 that submitted their bids to supply fertiliser and seeds for the 2017/18 agricultural season which will see about 900 000 farming families benefiting from the programme.
However, it allegedly excluded Transglobe despite being shortlisted after Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development recommended that it be dropped from the list of suppliers because one of its directors is answering a court case related to the controversial procurement of maize from Zambia.
The 2017/18 Fisp coupon distribution exercise was rolled out last week in Mchinji. Each beneficiary will get a coupon to access two bags of fertiliser and certified seed through selected agro-dealers across the country.
Fisp is a taxpayer-funded initiative that makes available farm inputs—hybrid maize seed, legumes and fertiliser—to poor smallholder farmers at subsidised rates to boost household food security. n