A recent report by auditing firm Price-waterhouseCoopers (PwC) has revealed that political interference and lack of transparency at the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) is one of the major stumbling blocks to its effective performance.
An Assessment Report on Operations and Management of Strategic Grain Reserves dated January 11 2016 says maize prices on the domestic market remain highly volatile and NFRA contributes to unpredictability of prices; hence, the current distortion of the maize market and ineffectiveness of the price stabilisation policy.
Reads part of the report, which was commissioned by the World Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development: “NFRA’s autonomy and independence is heavily compromised due to political interference which in some instances has adversely affected its core operations. Although interference of government and politicians in operations of NFRA is perhaps understandable considering that maize is the main staple food for most Malawians, frequent changes of the CEOs [chief executive officers] brings instability in its operations and management of the organisation.”
“Government attempts to ensure there is household and national food security in the country for humanitarian reasons, and politicians will safeguard food security for the country for humanitarian reasons and political survival,” added the report.
The report further says government should have the political will to reserve the required financial resources if NFRA operations are to run effectively and efficiently, and fulfil its mandate.
“The poor condition of infrastructure has forced NFRA to reduce potential storage capacity utilisation to 22 percent—stakeholder consultations indicated that out of the total 340 000 metric tonnes [MT] available storage capacity, only 75 000 MT storage capacity can be utilised. Although the current official size of the strategic grain reserve [SGR] is 60 000 MT, the problem is likely to limit its revenue-generating activities through renting out of storage space,” it said.
But in an interview yesterday, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza said some of the issues raised in the assessment are unrealistic and need a deeper understanding.
He said: “If the report is saying there is political interference, then they are not aware of how parastatals are run.”