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Government elusive on tobacco penalties

INQUISITIVE—Nankhumwa (3rd right) inspects the market

Agriculture Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa on Tuesday toured the Lilongwe Auction Floors but failed to commit whether Capital Hill would bend the rules on the contentious penalties on tobacco overproduction.

This was after scores of growers expressed concern over the hefty penalties tobacco authorities are imposing on growers for the additional tobacco produced beyond their quota.

Among other things, the new Tobacco Act stipulates that “where a grower wilfully produces excess tobacco in contravention of his production quota or the contractual agreement with his buyer, as the case may be, the [Tobacco] Commission shall uplift the grower’s production quota and collect three quarters of the proceeds of the excess tobacco and remit the remaining one quarter to the grower”.

The law says the three quarters of the proceeds collected by the TC shall be put together with other fines collected by the TC for the development of the tobacco industry.

It adds that, where excess tobacco is yielded as a result of natural factors that are beyond the control of a grower, the TC shall uplift the grower’s quota but collect one quarter of the proceeds of the excess tobacco and remit the remainder to the grower.

But asked whether Capital Hill would bend the rules on the penalties as demanded by the growers, Nankhumwa said the government would discuss the issue with the growers and the Tobacco Commission.

“We cannot bend the rules but we will engage in dialogue with the growers so that we hear their concerns. We believe that dialogue is key in sorting out this issue,” Nankhumwa said.

A number of growers interviewed at the auction indicated that the penalties were punitive, adding that the law came into effect after they had produced the crop.

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