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Parliament Gives Ministry Ultimatum Over Agric Input Schemes

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made (right). (Photo/Irwin Chifera)
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made (right). (Photo/Irwin Chifera)
Parliament’s Public Accounts committee is demanding information from the agriculture ministry as officials remain adamant that they do not have lists of beneficiaries of various government-backed agricultural input programs and amounts they owe the State, insisting the schemes were never implemented by them.

Agriculture ministry officials told the committee Monday they do not have the information on who benefited from such programs as Operation Maguta and the farm mechanization scheme.

Officials, led by permanent secretary Ringison Chitsiko, said though such programs were meant to support the ministry’s activities, they were not responsible for them and could therefore not be held accountable.

The officials had been called to explain anomalies relating to the schemes that were raised in the latest Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report.

Kudakwashe Zata, a finance director in the ministry, told the committee that though programs such as Maguta were housed in the ministry, they were independent to the extent that they borrowed money from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe without the ministry’s knowledge.

“When they borrowed $3,7 million, this was not sanctioned by the accounting officer,” said Zata. “It was as per instructions or maybe advice or information from the RBZ. Meetings were held at RBZ, the suppliers were engaged there and Maguta would implement. It is only quite recently when the issue was now brought to the attention of the agriculture ministry just to take the to the finance ministry to retire the obligation.”

Operation Maguta, which was run by the military under Brigadier General Douglas Nyikayaramba, owes suppliers $4 million. The debt has since been assumed by the agriculture ministry.

The audit report shows that the ministry distributed millions worth of agricultural inputs to farmers on a cost recovery basis but nothing has been recovered with no-one making efforts to recover the money.

Ministry officials said the inputs were distributed under the RBZ farm mechanization program, adding they do not have details of the program.

But the committee insisted that the ministry should make a full disclosure on the beneficiaries and amounts involved given, arguing the programs were run under its ambit.

Chitsiko promised to assist the committee with the information but hinted it would be difficult to get any details related to the RBZ’s quasi-fiscal activities in the past decade.

Several members of the committee from both sides of the political divide were worried by the ministry’s failure to answer questions regarding the agriculture inputs schemes and alleged fraudulent activities in the ministry’s departments.

Kambuzuma lawmaker Willas Madzimure said the ministry must be held accountable for the programs.

Parliament last year unsuccessfully tried to get the lists of beneficiaries of various government inputs programs after some of the people who ran the schemes, including former RBZ Governor Gideon Gono and Grain Marketing Board general manager Albert Mundizha, declined to provide details. They said they have forwarded the information to the agriculture ministry, whose officials denied Monday have access to any such details.

Most of the schemes were run on partisan lines and benefitted mostly Zanu PF officials and supporters.