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Budget implementation annoys Parliament

The Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture has said its cluster meetings held last week revealed that Treasury failed to remit about 49 percent of the 2014-15 budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

Traditionally, the Agriculture Ministry gets the largest share in the national budget and in the ending budget, about K142 billion was allocated to the ministry out of which K58 billion was meant for the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) while the rest was earmarked for various projects.

In an interview yesterday, chairperson of the committee, Felix Jumbe, said during their meetings in the past week, members of the committee observed that almost half of the amount on paper did not reach the ministry.

“Funding to the ministry has been 51 percent of what was presented. In terms of remitting funds to the ministry, if, for example, they said they would give K100 million to a particular section, you find that to date it is about K51 million that has been remitted on the past year’s performance budget.

“There has been minus 51 percent funding from the Treasury to the ministry. In other words, from the funding year, which is about K140 billion, the funding has been around 51 to 60 percent. That is the money that has been made available to the ministry from that K140 billion. And this year they are saying K133 billion. We are now wondering whether the ministry will get that amount. What will be the realistic budget?” Jumbe queried.

He said it is sad that people outside the agriculture sector have a feeling that the sector gets a lot of funding from the budget, yet the presumed huge amount of money ends on paper.

“That is why we wanted more of a performance budget. Look at what the government has done. If they said, they would dig 15 dip tanks, have they done that and where? Because they would just say 15 dip tanks every year without any dip tanks being dug. We want to do more of our oversight role by doing observation in the field,” he said.

But Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development spokesperson, Nations Msowoya, who did not acknowledge the percentage that Jumbe raised, said there are many factors that may lead to situations where a particular ministry receives less than the allocations in the budget.

“It could be that there were some projects which were supposed to start within the financial year but due to other factors the rolling out of such projects has been delayed. So, the ministry is forced to reallocate the money elsewhere. So, if the ministry had some challenges in using those funds, there is no point in keeping that money under that vote and then the money is taken to be used somewhere.

“So, you should check mid-year budget review figures. It may not be 51 percent as you are saying, depending on the circumstances in the mid-year. If not, it could be that there was a challenge in cash-flow. Maybe the money was moved to other programmes but not 51 percent as you are saying,” Msowoya said.

Apart from Fisp other projects that were to be done during the 2014-15 budget included a K2 billion legume production promotion programme and K5 billion out of the K10 billion that was required for the restocking of strategic grain reserves.

According to the budget statement, the development budget for the ministry was estimated at MK74.1 billion and the projects earmarked for these resources are the Agriculture Sector Wide Support project, Livestock Development Programme, Agriculture Extension and Advisery Services, Irrigation, Rural Livelihood and Agriculture Development (Irlad), Farm Income Diversification Programme, Shire River Basin Management project, National Water Development Programme and technical support for the Green Belt Initiative Programme.

On Fisp, Jumbe said the committee is interested in the mechanism that the government will use to fill the K18 billion gap that has been created due to reduction of the Fisp allocation.

Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe said it is intended that the cost of the programme should be limited to K40 billion in 2015/16 financial year.

“The target is the same number of 1.5 million people, which means people will have to top up. But the amount which people are supposed to top up, we do not know at the moment and we will be waiting for the government to tell us. But to target same number of people with less money, it means people will have to add something. We are interested in the mechanism which the government will use to top up,” Jumbe said.

The parliamentary cluster meetings enter second week today.

Thereafter, the committees will present their reports to the House for further budgetary debate.

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