Some of the 27 suppliers which were contracted to supply inputs meant for the 2015/2016 Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) allegedly defrauded the government by providing false information that all farmers bought the inputs.
At the onset of the programme, suppliers were assigned specific areas but, half way into the programme, the government changed this arrangement, giving suppliers the freedom to supply anywhere regardless of their initial assignment area.
This brought confusion into the programme as most suppliers preferred to supply to trading centres due to their [trading centres’] proximity to their duty stations. As a result, beneficiaries living in remote areas suffered, forcing some farmers to sell coupons to traders that visited their areas for as low as K3, 000.
Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Chairperson, Joseph Chidanti-Malunga, said the committee’s investigations on last farming year’s Fisp established that some suppliers organised themselves, went to remote areas and convinced the Fisp beneficiaries to sell them the coupons.
“They sent vendors to do this on their behalf. They told the farmers that it was better for them to sell the coupons to them because nobody was going to sell them the farm inputs. The farmers panicked and sold the coupons out of desperation. The suppliers did this in order to have the coupons redeemed at the ministry, convincing government that they had sold the inputs,” Malunga said.
Malunga noted that the suppliers got away with it because it was hard for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to build a case against them for fraud considering that the coupons are uniform for all districts in the country.
“It was difficult for the ministry to know whether the coupons had genuinely been redeemed or not. We recommended to the ministry that it should ensure that there are more restrictions this year, including making the coupons district specific,” Malunga said.
Malunga added: “We will be involved in the tendering process of suppliers this time around. We want to be part of every process to ensure that the programme is as accountable as possible. We know we cannot curb each and every malpractice but we will try within our powers to ensure that the system is okay.”
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development spokesperson, Osborne Tsoka, said the ministry has failed to confirm whether the suppliers bought the coupons from the farmers or not.
“We have tried to do an assessment on this and we did not find anything. So, at this point, we may as well say this is just speculation,” Tsoka said.
However, Tsoka acknowledged that the coupon distribution exercise started very late, a thing which led some farmers to be unsure of the availability of inputs, adding that, in some areas, people had already planted their maize seeds.
“This year beneficiaries will get the coupons on time, we want to build confidence in farmers. We may begin the distribution exercise wby September,” Tsoka said.
Tsoka disclosed that the ministry is already talking with the printer and it takes six to seven weeks for them to complete production of coupons. He said this would be done by end September, adding that the ministry would have the final programme in two weeks’ time.
We have learnt that the tender documents for this year’s Fisp supply were opened last week Friday at a hotel in Blantyre.
Malawi has been selling subsidised farm inputs for about 12 years now. Experts have highly criticised the programme, saying it has not benefited the intended poor farmers.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, about 900,000 people will benefit from Fisp in the 2017/2018 farming year.
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