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Government contradicts itself on AIP middlemen

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Building on proclamations by the State President that AIP would be undergoing reforms, Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe announced that Capital Hill would be cutting off middlemen. Five months later, Barkaat Foods Limited happened.

Government is contradicting itself on the procurement of fertiliser for this year’s Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) following revelations that it paid K750 million to a United Kingdom (UK) firm, Barkaat Foods Limited, a middle man, for the purchase of 25,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser.

In May this year during the 2022-23 budget presentation, Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe echoed what President Lazarus Chakwera said during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) in February that the AIP was going through some reforms.

Outlining some of the expenditure control measures that government would implement in the 2022-23 National Budget, Gwengwe said government would procure fertiliser directly from manufacturers.

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“Madam Speaker, as directed by His Excellency the State President in his State of the Nation Address, my Ministry will in the 2022- 2023 fiscal year, implement the following expenditure control measures: Review benefits and entitlements for senior Government officials, including the Presidency and Cabinet Ministers. Procure security equipment and fertilizer directly from manufacturers,” reads part of the budget statement.

However, months later it has transpired that government once again engaged middle men to procure the farm inputs, who allegedly duped Capital Hill K750 million.

In a statement last week, Ministry of Agriculture said it was Barkaat Foods Limited that would purchase the fertiliser from Yara Limited on behalf of the government.

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Spokesperson for the ministry Gracian Lungu could not explain this policy contradiction.

“At a set time we will respond to those issues, not now,” he said.

Chairperson of the AIP taskforce, Sam Kawale, could not pick up his mobile phone when we called him.

In separate interviews, Chairperson of the Committee of Agriculture in Parliament, Sameer Suleman and Agriculture Analyst Tamani Nkhono Mvula faulted government for wasting time thinking it had the technical know-how and capacity to execute their plan.

Suleman said it is unfortunate that the government, through the Treasury, has gone against its word by issuing out payments to a middle man.

“Different government officials have made that commitment, not once but several times including the President once mentioned it. The Minsiter of Finance made that declaration. You can see that the payments are coming from his ministry. So, he is contracting himself,” he said.

Suleman said looking at the situation, government may panic because it has wasted time.

Nkhono-Mvula added that this year’s AIP is likely to be more chaotic than the previous.

He further faulted the move to have Kawale chairing the AIP taskforce.

“AIP will not be well executed even with changes that have been made that a whole different minister should chair the programme’s task force… it clearly shows that the President does not have confidence in his own Minister of Agriculture,” he said.

In the 2022-23 national budget, AIP claimed K109.5 billion of the total agriculture sector budget. The preceding year’s budget had K142 billion for the programme.

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