Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday assessed the implementation of the K160 billion Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), highlighting both successes and shortfalls, but Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe was non-committal on demands to comment on the future of the programme.
The MPs’ proposals followed a Ministerial Report the minister presented in Parliament yesterday at the start of the 2020/21 Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting. In the statement, the minister put the success rate at 91 percent.
While not providing a direct response to the legislators’ questions on sustainability of the programme, Lowe admitted that a high spending programme such as AIP cannot just continue without being evaluated in terms of value for money.
He said: “At the moment, I cannot say whether the programme will continue or not. What we are doing
at the moment is to conduct a monitoring and evaluation exercise to analyse progress, success and challenges of the programme.
“The outcome of this exercise will inform us whether to continue with the programme or not. If the outcome is for national good, consideration will certainly be made to proceed.”
In terms of beneficiaries and expenditure, Lowe said government spent K140.2 billion on AIP from the initial K160.2 billion allocation in the K2.2 trillion 2020/21 National Budget.
He said the reduction in the cost followed the flushing out of ghost beneficiaries from the initial 4.2 million down to 3.7 million farming households.
AIP was rolled out as a successor to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) implemented by the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration since 2006. Unlike Fisp which targeted an average one million beneficiaries at a cost of about K35 billion, AIP was ambitious by targeting four times the number. It also used the national identity cards.
By February 20 when the programme officially closed, 3.4 million farmers had redeemed their inputs against the total number of 3.7 million beneficiaries.
While commending the Tonse Alliance administration for the scaled up programme, Mulanje Bale MP Victor Musowa (DPP) asked authorities to learn from challenges that
rocked the programme, including network glitches. rocked the programme, including
He said some farmers were left out due to technical problems, including network glitches and missing or misspelling of names in the electronic system which was used.
On his part, Chitipa South legislator Werani Chilenga (DPP) said unscrupulous traders penetrated the system and procured inputs to the disadvantage of farmers.
But the minister assured the legislators that in partnership with law enforcement agencies, the ministry addressed the malpractices of fraud and that culprits faced the law.
He asked MPs to liaise with his ministry to rectify spelling errors of names to assist beneficiaries on a case-by-case basis.
Chipping in, Agriculture Committee of Parliament chairperson Sameer Suleman urged the Ministry of Agriculture to work with his committee as early as possible to ensure that measures are in place to mitigate emerging challenges in the implementation.
The Blantyre City South East legislator sent Parliament in stitches when he pleaded with “the appointing authority” to maintain Lowe as Minister of Agriculture because he was “a listening minister” who performed well based on AIP outcome.
Nsanje Lalanje MP Gladys Ganda (DPP), who also chairs Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee, queried why some districts, especially in the Central Region, had more input suppliers compared to others.
In response, Lowe said all concerns will be addressed during the review.
Parliament is holding the ‘hybrid virtual’ meeting with 70 MPs in the chamber and the rest following proceedings virtually. The arrangement, according to Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara, is in view of Covid-19 precautionary measures.
During the meeting, only three MPs contributed virtually to the day’s deliberations.
Parliament also observed a minute of silence in honour of the souls of four legislators and two Cabinet ministers who died of Covid-19 complications between January and February this year.
President Lazarus Chakwera is scheduled to appear in Parliament on March 21 2021 (subject to State House confirmation of the date) to answer questions from MPs, the Speaker announced