Prisons across Malawi have run out of food and the situation is very dire that some of them have even depleted their food budgets because of rising prices.
In an interview on Monday, Acting Chief Commissioner for Malawi Prison Services (MPS), Kennedy Nkhoma, confirmed that the situation “is not good at all because we don’t have enough.”
He said: “I know one station, Maula [in Lilongwe] has completely run out of money and they don’t have food.”
Nkhoma attributed the situation to three scenarios, all beyond MPS’s control.
He said: “First, we did not harvest enough last year due to poor rains.”
Prisons annually cultivate maize enough to cater for half of their rations hoping government to take up the remaining half.
In the current fiscal year, however, MPS was given K224 million for food, 57.5 percent down from the previous year when they got K481 million, according to budget documents.
The documents also show that funding has been going down each fiscal year because in 2011/12, prisons food and rations budget was at K528 million.
There are currently over 13 000 inmates in prisons across the country, up from 11 000 in 2011 because, according to Nkhoma, 1 000 new inmates are coming in every year.
MPS also agreed with State produce trader, the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) “that they will be supplying us 7 000 bags every month which would be enough for our rations but they haven’t managed to do this.”
But Admarc chief executive officer Dr Jerry Jana said there is no such agreement with MPS, adding that “in as far as Admarc is concerned several prisons are collecting the maize.”
Said Jana: “An agreement is written and signed and there is no such thing. Almost every day prisons are collecting maize from us and when we have no maize, we give them whatever we have from their requirement with an understanding that they would come later to collect the remaining lot.”
He said at times, Admarc has priorities on who gets the little maize it has “and most often such priority is given to schools.”
The other challenge MPS is facing, is that all their suppliers are refusing to supply “at the old rates.”
Said Nkhoma: “It is a serious problem because even our suppliers are not able to supply us because of prices. The problem is that they won fixed tenders, but they want to supply at the current rates prevailing on the ground.”
The fixed tenders were at the rate of K4 500 per 50 kg bag, but now a 50 kg bag of maize is selling at as high as K10 000.
“We are still battling to see what happens,” said Nkhoma.
He said they have already informed both Ministry of Home Affairs and the Treasury of the situation.
But Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya said “as of Friday, there was no official communication on the matter.”
Said Msowoya: “But if [the request] comes, we’ll consider it in context based on their figures.”