Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has apologised again for the disposal without consideration of tractors meant to boost smallholder farming in the country.
The first apology came through media statements following a court order for principal secretaries (PSs) for ministries of Agricuklture and Finance to publish the apology for 21 consecutive days in the country’s two daily newspapers and during prime time on a public and a private radio broadcasters (both radio and television).
Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is doing a fresh inquiry into the controversial disposal of farm equipment, including tractors, bought with a $50 million (about K37 billion) loan from the Exim Bank of India in 2011.
Yesterday, PAC met officials from the ministry who apologised to the committee, saying the decision to dispose of the equipment, especially the tractors, was not well thought out.
The committee learnt that the tractors were each sold at an average of K5.6 million instead of K10 million each, as the ministry used an exchange rate that was prevailing at the time of purchase rather than using the exchange rate at the time of the sell.
The ministry’s director of administration Maxwell Tsitsi, who represented PS Grey Nyandule Phiri, said the ministry and those who made the decision to sell the tractors and other farm equipment overlooked the exchange rate and interests in the event that the beneficiaries took long to repay.
PAC has expressed its dissatisfaction with the decision of Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to dispose of the tractors which were sold without interest and at a lower rate.
Committee chairperson Ken Kandodo said the committee was not satisfied with the responses; hence, has ordered the ministry to provide further documentation to the House on the disposal as they feel there is more than what meets the eye.
He said: “We are not satisfied with the responses. We have asked for further documentation on the disposal of the tractors.”
The farm equipment purchased with a line of credit from Export-Import Bank of India to mechanise agriculture in the country included 177 tractors and 144 maize shellers, 90 tipping trailers and 48 seed-cum fertiliser drilling machines.
The tractors were meant for distribution to ADDs to enable smallholder farmers graduate to mechanisation.
According to Tsitsi, out of the procured implements, 69 tractors, 15 trailers, 70 maize shellers and 17 seed-cum fertiliser machines were offered for sale in August 2014 and the remaining ones were distributed to ADDs.
He said K62.1 million is yet to be recovered from the controversial sell of farm equipment that occurred about four years ago as they have collected K360. 2 million.
He said government officials who have retired and have balances have not had their retirement packages deducted.
PAC’s inquiry comes against a background of a High Court case where PSs for Agriculture and Finance were convicted for contempt of court after they purportedly ignored a court order to issue a public apology to Malawians for alleged maladministration and flawed disposal of the equipment.
However, the High Court later set aside the earlier conviction to hear the two PSs side of the story.