Government has rescinded its earlier decision to move the Shire Valley Irrigation Project from the ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to Office of President and Cabinet (OPC).
The K15 billion worth project was to be implemented by Green Belt Authority (GBA) which is under OPC, according to the proposals. Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed the ‘withdrawal’ in an interview last week, saying it is impossible to change implementers at this stage.
The cancellation also follows queries by Nation on Sunday to OPC for over a week now on the justification of the move, but chief secretary to government Lloyd Muhara promised to call with a response but he never did.
Gondwe said in a brief response: “We were thinking of it but, no we will not [move it]. It was a proposal; we’ve gone quite far with World Bank and ADB [African Development Bank], so it’s not possible to change.”
In an earlier interview, Parliamentary committee on Agriculture chairperson Joseph Chidanti–Malunga said MPs were ‘shocked’ to learn during cluster meetings that OPC were to take over implementation of the project.
Currently, according to the chairperson, the authority has only one director and three other officers without irrigation engineers and crop scientists.
“The GBA has not passed through Parliament yet. The bill for the authority is proposed to be tabled during this sitting. In fact, that’s another worry that the project has been lumped to an authority which legally does not exist yet.
There is no single evidence that OPC has ever completed an agricultural project, “Our major fear is that appraisal documents already approved by World Bank do not mention Greenbelt, with this change it means appraisals will have to be redone to reflect the new institutional framework. This will not only delay the project but World Bank that is the major donor may pull out. Our stand is that the project must remain with irrigation department, after all it’s their project,” said Chidanti-Malunga.
He said members also expressed their disapproval with the new arrangement when they met with officials from Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development during cluster meetings.
A copy of the presentation on the 2017/18 budget estimates that Greenbelt officials presented to the committee that we have seen shows that the GBA is not yet ready to commence some of its activities.
It reads in part: “Honourable chairperson and your honourable committee, currently we do not have detailed planned activities for the two projects mentioned above [Shire Valley Irrigation Project and Green Belt Initiative –Aswap component 2].”
When contacted for his comment last week, director of irrigation in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Geoffrey Mamba said his office was also just hearing about the news.
He explained that remarkable technical progress has been registered so far, adding that a feasibility study was done by the ministry which was completed in December last year.
Mamba, therefore, pointed out that once such an exercise has been undertaken it means the implementer is already known and as well as other components such as how the project will be done.
But Treasury earlier played down the ‘fears’, saying even though the project has already been appraised by the financiers, it will not affect the new arrangement.
In an interview last week, principal secretary in the Ministry of Finance Ben Botolo said government decided to move the project to GBA because it wants to undertake large-scale and mechanised farming and generate forex in return.