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How govt loses billions through the Farm Input Voucher System

10th July 2011
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If someone asks you to mention countries that are now good exporters of food crops, especially maize in the SADC region, definitely Malawi would be in the list that it may probably top.

Malawi has made tremendous strides in the agricultural sector after introducing a special arrangement of subsiding agricultural input such as fertilizer and seeds known as Voucher System.

In the late 2000s, the Tanzanian government sent its agricultural officials to Malawi to pick hints on how the system operated and introduce it to Tanzania, after changing some of its aspects to suit the local situation.

Under the system, selected farmers in a particular village are asked to contribute a certain amount of money in purchasing a package of agricultural input that can be applied into an acre of a farm.

In most cases a selected farmer gets a bag of 50 kilogrammes of sowing fertilizer, seed and another bag of 50 kilogrammes of dressing fertilizer at a half price of the market value since the government covers the remaining half of the market price.

The government has designed a special arrangement with farm input agents who upon delivering the agricultural input to the needy, a selected farmer would be

required to submit the voucher to such an agent including a certain amount of money to top up the difference.

The Vouchers bearing the amount of money that the government subsidises each item are distributed from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives to the regions before being taken down to the districts, wards and villages.

Despite the system being good, its implementation that officially started in the 2008/2009 farming season has recently been plagued by massive irregularities.

According to interviews that The Guardian on Sunday with conducted with some MPs in Dodoma, the government may have lost billions of shillings in the course of implementing the system.

An MP for Mbozi West (Chadema) David Silinde told The Guardian on Sunday that most of Village Executive Officers (VEO) have been registering names of either the dead, students or ‘ghosts as beneficiaries of the system in various villages.

He said they, at one time, arrested some individuals in his constituency and the cases are on-going in courts. According to Silinde, the ministry should carry out a research to find ways to improve the system.

He said cases of the selected beneficiaries colluding with agents were also rampant. He said under this irregularity the agent gives the beneficiary a small amount of money, say Sh5000 or Sh10,000 in exchange for the voucher.

Godfrey Zambi (CCM – Mbozi East) registered similar complaints when he spoke to The Guardian on Sunday over the weekend. Apart from supporting Silinde’s observation, the CCM legislator said some vouchers were disappearing in the course of being transported from the Ministry to the region, from the region to the district, from the district to the ward and finally from the ward to the village where beneficiaries live.

In March this year, the Rukwa Regional Consultative Council (RCC) urged the government to devise new ways of subsidizing agricultural inputs, different from the present voucher system which the council said enriched unscrupulous businessmen and agents.

During the meeting, Rukwa Regional Commissioner Daniel Njolay told RCC members that they had discovered a foul play in the implementation of the system.

He informed RCC members that 26 unscrupulous businessmen and greedy agents had been suspended after they were discovered to have stolen subsidized agricultural inputs.

In the 2010/2011 farming season, the government had allocated vouchers of subsidized fertilizers worth over Sh12 billion for Rukwa Region alone while in the 2009/2010 season, the region received vouchers of subsidized fertilizers worth Sh8 billion.

While presenting the budget speech for his office for the 2011/2012 financial year, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told the Parliament that the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) would throw its weight into investigating cases of fraud surrounding the implementation of a new system of proving agricultural input to farmers in the country.

According to Premier Pinda, the government asked PCCB to intervene after farmers lodged complaints over mismanagement of Voucher distribution.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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