New Agriculture Minister Kawale claims ADMARC was not closed
* Ministry of Agriculture should ensure that strict control measures are put in place
* So that the markets are not invaded by unscrupulous vendors as this will affect or destroy all the good intentions
* Also asks Government to release enough stocks of maize while controlling the amounts to be purchased by individual consumers
* Minister Kawale declares that ADMARC was not ‘closed’ as some quarters were alleging
* Since some selected workers are still managing the administrative matters with others on forced leave
By Duncan Mlanjira
Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA), which of late has strongly critiqued President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration for its failure to quickly resuscitate the economy, has praised Ministry of Agriculture for re-opening ADMARC markets and reinstating all its members of staff — “especially those that will serve consumers in these markets.
A statement from Executive Director, John Kapito says the reopening of the markets is sweet music to consumers’ ears and also expressed satisfaction “with the price reduction of maize at this peak period when most consumers do not have adequate food and money”.
However, CAMA is appealing to the Ministry of Agriculture “to ensure that strict control measures are put in place to ensure that the markets are not invaded by unscrupulous vendors as this will affect or destroy all the good intentions regarding the reopening of the markets.
“We are also asking Government to release enough stocks of maize while controlling the amounts to be purchased by individual consumers.”
In many instances, unscrupulous traders buy maize in bulk and resell it at high prices when stocks are depleted in ADMARC depots and when the national grain seller puts strict control measures, the vendors invade it further by providing money to others to buy their full quota on their behalf for a fee.
CAMA further says it is hopeful that this timely re-opening of the markets will assist all consumers and at the same time appealing to the Ministry of Agriculture “to avoid making such unilateral and unnecessary decisions on matters that have a huge impact on poor consumers”.
“These ADMARC markets are very important and key to our food supply chain and any decisions affecting their operations must be for the good of poor consumers.”
Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale told Parliament on Monday that ADMARC would be open on December 1, which was closed down by former minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe.
That decision was met with stiff criticism from the opposition, local leaders and human rights activists and in a ministerial statement, Kawale declared that ADMARC was not ‘closed’ as some quarters were alleging as some selected workers are still managing the administrative matters, with some on forced leave.
Prices of maize went up to K30,000 per 50kg bag during the ‘closure’ of depot, causing a lot of panic in many families and Kawale assured that his Ministry has plans to flood ADMARC depots with maize in order to control prices.
Kawale was appointed Agriculture Minister Lowe replacing Lowe after the fertilizer-gate and in firing Lowe, Chakwera disclosed that internal inquiries revealed a disturbing litany of bad decisions that smacked of incompetence and gross negligence.
Chakwera said under Lowe, the Ministry — through Smallholder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund — engaged a British company as an agent to secure fertilizer from a manufacturer “without conducting the necessary financial, business, anti-money laundering and legal due diligence to ensure the company’s credibility and capacity”.
“Secondly, the Fund proceeded to pay this company an agency fee of US$725,000 in two installments, one installment payed on the 13th of May amounting to US$181,250 and another paid on the 14th of June amounting to US$543,750 — all without any credible evidence that this company had any credibility or capacity to secure fertilizer.
“Thirdly, at the request of the company, Smallholder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund made the two payments into two separate accounts in two different countries outside the United Kingdom, and yet they proceeded to effect this suspicious method of payment without question.
“Fourthly, both the contract with and payment to the company were done without following proper procurement procedures, as neither the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA), nor the Government Contracting Unity (GCU), nor the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) were engaged to properly vet the process as required by law.”
Considering that the volumes of fertilizer the Ministry was tasked to procure would be large and worth millions of dollars, Chakwera said “a team of officials was dispatched to the United Kingdom to determine the company’s credibility and capacity to deliver the product, and it is from that mission that the Ministry’s error in judgement and blatant disregard of procedures became apparent, as the suppliers’ capacity turned out to be without merit”.
But still the public, the opposition, civil society organisations and CAMA criticised the government, with John Kapito left to wonder “how the transaction went through when Malawi has a number of financial controls and independent institutions that would have detected the illegal financial transaction”.
Kapito maintained that it is wrong to assume and conclude that these illegal transactions started and ended at the Ministry of Agriculture alone without the knowledge of the State President and the other financial institutions considering the magnitude and importance of the program.
“Much as the President might wish to play ignorance and — if indeed the State President was not briefed or aware about this transaction — then we should be worried that Malawi is a fertile ground for illicit financial transactions.
“The million dollar question which the State President failed to address is how did the Minister and his delegation travel to the United Kingdom without his knowledge and clearance in Malawi? A Cabinet Minister cannot travel outside the country without being cleared by the State President.
“The President himself needs a lot of explaining about his role regarding the identification of the supplier and under whose instructions did Treasury and Reserve Bank facilitate the transfer of such huge sums of money to a foreign supplier and bank.
“This is beyond the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture and therefore both the President, Treasury and Reserve Bank cannot distance themselves from these transactions.”
Kapito still expects the law enforcement agencies to carry an independent investigation and hold all the actors accountable.