As Parliament rose sine die yesterday after passing the K1.1 trillion 2016/17 national budget, that nod to the annual financial plan included a K300 million allocation to the legally non-existent Green Belt Authority (GBA).
But Weekend Nation has noted that the money does not appear anywhere in the Draft Estimates of Expenditure on Recurrent and Capital Budget for the Financial Year 2016/17.
The only money coming close to Green Belt activities is K600 million allocated to the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC). Yet, Parliament passed the K300 million allocation to the GBA, which is supposed to have replaced the GBI.
For allocating money to a non-existing authority—as Parliament has not passed a law establishing it—some commentators in and outside the Parliament have blamed Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe for misleading the nation on the issue.
But Gondwe argues that GBA is currently temporarily a trust; hence, the allocation.
One of the legislators who queried the subvention for the non-existent GBA in the House is Dedza East MP Juliana Lunguzi (Malawi Congress Party-MCP).
Lunguzi said the vote was passed amid protest from the opposition members, saying they did not have time to look into the technicalities of the vote.
“We were ambushed,” she said.
Member of Parliament for Nkhata Bay Central Ralph Mhone (People’s Party-PP) a lawyer by profession, said it is not procedural to pass a vote to an authority that does not exist.
He said the House never passed a bill on the authority and according to the procedures the House cannot create a vote for an Authority that is non-existent in this country.
He said: “This is a very curious issue. It raises the issue of accountability. It is very irregular because there is no controlling officer for it. The House gives money where there is a controlling officer.”
Echoing Mhone, MCP spokesperson on finance Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi said it will be difficult to follow up the money for audit purposes.
He said what is on record is that the Minister of Finance requested to allocate resources of about K300 million to a new vote and not a trust. In his understanding, the K300 million has been allocated to the GBI under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) which has already been allocated K600 million.
The vote for GBI under OPC is K600 million, according to the figures in the Draft Estimates of Expenditure on Recurrent and Capital Budget for the Financial Year 2016/17.
“This is the highest level of abuse by the Executive for not consulting Parliament. They have created a window that will promote corruption,” he said.
The proposed GBA will be a government company entrusted with managing the Green Belt Initiative (GBI). For government to create an authority, it has to seek parliamentary approval through a bill creating the company or the Authority.
The legislators argued that only after going through such a process is the Ministry of Finance through Treasury allowed to create a vote and propose budget allocation, none of which has happened.
Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) national director Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said the MPs were justified to question how the bill was named [either as a GBA for which Parliamentary approval was not sought or a Trust] saying he does not think a Trust can be subvented through a Parliamentary vote.
Said Nkhono-Mvula: “I don’t think a Trust can be subvented through a parliamentary vote. Probably that is why the vote was called GBA, but at the end of the day it is all confusion.”
But Gondwe defended the decision, saying in the mean time, Treasury has created a Green Belt Trust and it is this body that has been allocated money although the vote is shown as GBA.
In an interview on Tuesday Gondwe said government did not have time to create the Authority and instead decided to create a Trust which has started operating.
Said Gondwe: “We hope to create the Authority in November.”
The Minister of Finance with the backing of a majority of both opposition and government members of Parliament allowed the passing of the K300 million to a body which does not exist.
Said Gondwe in his budget statement “Mr. Speaker, Sir, to coordinate these many other large-scale irrigation infrastructure projects, it will be necessary to fully pursue this agenda of transformation. The government has decided to formally establish the Green Belt Authority as a standalone public agency and Treasury has established vote o78 for that to allocate resources for the administrative and operational expenses with immediate effect. This will be part of the 2016/17 budget.”
But Vote 078 and the one it changed into, 098, do not appear in any of the budget documents Weekend Nation has reviewed.
Gondwe further said the Authority was to be the official agent for the construction of the large scale irrigation infrastructure projects throughout the country in line with the government irrigation master plan while small scale irrigation projects will continue to be implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development.
While also faulting Gondwe for the confusion Nkhono-Mvula, however, welcomed the proposed formation of the Trust as a precursor to the Authority saying it is a good move as it means that the resources to run the GBI will be managed by Trustees and not follow the rigorous bureaucratic process it once was going through.
“This, in most cases, ended up having the GBI receiving far much less money than what was budgeted for as decision-making took so long and this has happened for a number of years,” he said.
He, however, said it was not realistic to have the GBA in November as the Minister pointed out because at the moment, there is no bill that will establish that entity and looking at how such processes happen in Government.
“We would, however, wish to request government to speed up this process,” he said.
The GBI, a brainchild of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika aimed at improving food security in the country, among other things, through large scale commercial farming and irrigation, has been facing funding challenges.
But between 2009 and 2014 government borrowed $156 million (K110 billion) from Export Import Bank of India to fund the GBI with the irrigation sector as a major beneficiary sector, among other projects. One other such project was the One Village One Product (Ovop) which operates under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
Experts have argued that for GBI to bear fruit it should be taken out of the OPC and make it operate as an authority to make it semi-autonomous as a way of ridding it from bureaucracy.
Malawi has potential to irrigate up to 407 862 hectares but out of this only 104 000 hectares have been developed.
Two consecutive seasons of food insecurity in the country due to delayed onset of rains, drought and floods have revived the need for Malawi to relook at its food security strategies. This year 6.4 millions Malawians need food aid owing to the El Nino weather episode which decimated food production by 32 percent in the 2015/16 growing season.