The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has recommended prosecution of officers suspected of creating ghost villages to benefit from the taxpayer-funded 2018/19 Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).
Delivering a ministerial statement on the implementation of the 2018/19 Fisp in Parliament yesterday, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha said the suspension of the exercise two weeks ago to allow councils to reconcile the registries revealed ghost villages and beneficiaries.
The minister said in Ntchisi District, 133 ghost villages were detected with 1 999 ghost beneficiaries on the registry for the district council.
In Mangochi, the ministry identified 813 ghost beneficiaries while Mchinji District registered 235 ghost beneficiaries, he said.
Mwanamvekha told Parliament that government suspended the exercise to iron out this challenge and detect the malpractice.
In response to a question from Nkhotakota South East legislator Everson Makowa Mwale (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) on disciplinary measures taken to deal with the staff who created ghost beneficiaries, the minister said they were careful not to post them elsewhere.
He said: “They have been suspended and are not working elsewhere. We did not want to transfer the problem. The matter has been referred to relevant authorities to deal with the issue.”
The ministry attributed that challenges of villages receiving less even after the number of beneficiaries was increased from 900 000 to one million could be a result of the proliferation of ghost beneficiaries.
The coupons that were allocated to ghost villages have since been redistributed to the actual villages in the districts.
So far, coupon distribution has ended in 19 districts except Likoma and Thyolo where the exercise is yet to start.
Reacting to the statement, leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera, who is also MCP president and Lilongwe North West legislator, said he had information that officials had shown up to address villagers in his constituency but sometimes showed up with 19 or five coupons in one village.
But Mwanamvekha disputed that coupon distribution had started in Lilongwe.
Last year, Lilongwe was allocated about 83 000 beneficiaries and has 89 200 beneficiaries this year.
About 44 private companies have been contracted to supply, warehouse, distribute and sell fertiliser around the country.
Parliament approved K43 billion for Fisp to distribute 100 000 metric tonnes (MT) split between NPK and Urea fertiliser, 5 000MT of cereals seed (maize, sorghum, rice) and 2 000MT of legume seed (soya bean, beans, groundnuts, cowpeas and pigeon peas).
Beneficiaries are buying two bags of 50kg fertiliser at K3 500 each.
The suspension of Fisp, lifted last week, followed reports of concerns in the distribution of coupons where, among others, some beneficiaries claimed their names were deleted from registers.
The ministry earlier dismissed reports that some of its staff were complicit to malpractices that rocked the programme.
Malawi introduced Fisp in 2005 to enable smallholder farming households access hybrid maize, legume seeds and fertiliser to boost production.
However, critics of the programme have pushed for an exit strategy and noted that the country is entangled in a vicious cycle with billions of kwacha invested in Fisp and, at the end of the day, taxpayers fishing out more to feed millions of hungry mouths after poor harvest. n