I may not be very conversant with the nitty-gritty of how the Affordable Input Programme (AIP)—the successor programme for the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp)—is implemented. But at least I know some inbuilt weaknesses in the programme which make it miss its targeted beneficiaries.
One such problem is the mandate given to chiefs—through Village Development Committees—to identify the beneficiaries. At least I know that where I come from the Group Village Headman (GVH) was mandated with this noble task of registering or choosing who to receive AIP inputs. The inputs include two bags of fertiliser and one 5kg pocket of maize seed all valued at about K51 000.
The way it is done is simple. The GVH or his representative singlehandedly identifies and submits a register of people in his villages deserving to receive the inputs to whatever office—most likely the District Commissioner. The names are then entered into the AIP database consolidated somewhere at Capital Hill.
Now, singlehandedly means that there is no transparency in how beneficiaries are identified. This can cause three scenarios. One is that the GVH can inflate the figures. Two, he can deliberately omit names of eligible beneficiaries for whatever reasons and submit ghost ones. Three, the GVH can leave out your name—again for reasons best known to himself or herself—as if you don’t exist or you don’t deserve the inputs.
The tragedy of it all is that if your name misses from the database, you can’t do anything as a remedy. Unless you come from President Lazarus Chakwera’s village. People from President Chakwera’s village, I understand, also missed from the AIP database. And it made headlines. The good thing is that by the time you read this article, the anomaly for those people will have been rectified.
But for villagers from Misuku Hills in Chitipa, Hoho in Mzimba, Mbang’ombe in Lilongwe, Kaphatenga in Salima and Sorjeni in Chikwawa. Who will speak for them? Who will shake up those officials at Capital Hill to remedy the situation? Nobody.
Back to the systemic weaknesses I mentioned earlier about GVH being given too much powers to include or exclude people from the database register at the GVH level. And this is a serious issue. Chiefs, at whatever level, are not angels. They live with the people in their areas, drink with them, pray with them, and have friends or enemies in equal measure.
Think of a chief who has picked up a fight with a member of his village probably at a beer hall. They fight and the chief comes out more bruised than his opponent both physically and in terms of his reputation because he was the aggressor. When time comes for submitting names of beneficiaries for the AIP, the chief thinks it is pay-back time. Banimanyenge (time to revenge). The chief may have lost the physical fight at the beer joint but he will not also lose this one. So, he simply leaves you out of the register.
There are many other reasons why deserving households are not among the 4.3 million beneficiaries of the K160 billion windfall. Some reasons are political. The GVH is MCP or DPP or UTM Party at heart. Wanting to punish the political opponent, he or she makes sure only or at least a majority of beneficiaries are those from his political party. People are being victimised for wrong reasons. AIP is funded by the taxpayer and so should benefit everybody regardless of their political affiliation. I don’t have figures handy but many people have missed the AIP train this year because they support this or that political party.
The network issues that have dominated and overshadowed the list of problems rocking the sale and distribution of AIP facilities are just one of the many woes the programme is facing. Network is always restored. And those who wait with hope never labour in vain. But my sister, cousin and uncle at Kankholi in Mzimba, Chambwe in Kasungu, Nanjiri in Lilongwe, Masambanjati in Thyolo and Mpondasi in Mangochi, whose names don’t appear in the database because someone wanted to settle a score with them will suffer.
The bottom line is that Ministry of Agriculture should find a way of vetting registers that GVH or chiefs at any level who prepare such are vetted and made more transparent.