The joint parliamentary committee will this week start probing irregularities that marred the implementation of the 2016/17 Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme (Fisp), chairperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga confirmed yesterday.
According to Malunga, the committee will soon summon 27 private firms to explain alleged irregularities.
He said the probe comes as part of the committee’s oversight responsibility after many farmers across the country cried foul that they were duped into selling their coupons for K5 000 each amid lies that the inputs had run out.
Under the Fisp programme, each coupon has a government subsidy value of K15 000 and a beneficiary only has to top up the amount private contracted suppliers charge for a bag of fertiliser. The top-up, per bag, ranged between K6 000 and K8 000, for inputs sold for K21 000 to K23 000 each.
Going by the queries of the farmers, it means that after using the agents, some suppliers redeemed the coupons and allegedly got the K15 000 government subsidy from the programme.
The farmers allege that some of the companies which were supposed to supply the subsidised fertiliser and seeds hoarded the supplies for some time, thereby creating the impression that logistical challenges had paralysed the delivery systems so much that no more inputs were available.
The allegations also say the agents then went to the farmers, enticing them with the “consolation” of at least selling their coupons for K5 000 each, rather than losing out on both the implements and the cash.
“The allegation is that after creating the panic among farmers, and after buying off the coupons, these agents and their suppliers later redeemed the government subsidy of K15 000 per bag, thereby making an illegal profit of K10 000 per bag,” Chidanti-Malunga.
“The queries from the public are many, including questionable ways in which some contracts were given to selected companies, while other suppliers are said to have been sidelined. We will look into all that, to establish the truth,” he stated.
But Chidanti-Malunga, who is an independent member of Parliament for Nsanje South West, stressed that corrupt and fraudulent practices need not rock the key sector of agriculture and food security, because people’s lives and the national economy are dependent on it.
He pointed out that Malawi has the potential of feeding itself, and other countries, if the agricultural sector could be fully harnessed.
“But to achieve this, we need people [technocrats] who are honest, trustworthy and who truly love this country and push to develop lives of the ordinary people. If this does not happen, Malawi will continue getting huge agriculture and irrigation loans from donors, with very little impact to show for it,” lamented Chidanti-Malunga.
He expressed concern that the serious investigative roles are coming thick and fast for his committee.
“We don’t want to appear like policing anyone. We just want people to do their work professionally and transparently, without using dishonest means over the people they are supposed to serve,” he added.
Chidanti-Malunga said the actual Fisp investigations may start next week, after the committee gathers more preparatory information and formally notifies the company owners to appear before it. But he hinted that his committee may have to seek extra funding to do its work, especially if the probing goes beyond the one week covered by normal funding by Parliament.
The parliamentary committee’s probe into the importation of Zambian maize into Malawi revealed that, among other issues, the then Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda, had presided over suspicious actions over the transactions which broke procurement procedures.
It recommended that criminal investigations be instituted against government officials, including Chaponda, and that disciplinary proceedings be taken against officials of State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) over their actions that bordered on fraud or corruption in the Zambia maize saga.
Chaponda, who was also recommended for more investigations by at least two other inquiries, was last week fired by President Peter Mutharika after the crime-busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), found him in possession of a stack of about K166 million in local and foreign currencies during ACB’s surprise pounce on his residence .
Meanwhile, in his comment over the issues of agricultural subsidy inputs to be probed, Fisp coordinator Osborne Tsoka said as far as the programme is concerned, anomalies may have been as low as three percent in the operations.
“We are yet to review the entire programme. But from our own monitoring, most of the farmers benefitted and utilised the subsidised coupons as expected,” he stated, adding that he would be keen to cross-check the farmers’ queries to the parliamentary committee.