By Obert Chifamba
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr Gideon Gono and Zanu PF Goromonzi North legislator Paddy Zhanda yesterday clashed during a parliamentary hearing into how agricultural equipment under the Farm Mechanisation Programme was distributed.
Zhanda stormed out of the hearing called by the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture after Dr Gono refused to divulge some information on the programme.
An argument between the two followed, leading committee chairperson Mr Moses Jiri to call off the hearing after Zhanda unceremoniously left. Relations between Dr Gono and Zhanda soured after the Reserve Bank Governor last year alleged that the legislator sought bribes from him.
Dr Gono said the bribes were meant to cause the abandonment of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Investment Promotion’s investigations into the central bank’s activities. Zhanda denied the allegations, with the House of Assembly rejecting a proposal to set up a committee to investigate the alleged request for a bribe.
The parliamentary decision effectively threw out the corruption allegations against Zhanda. The problem at the hearing yesterday started when Zhanda insisted that Dr Gono produce names of people who benefited from the mechanisation programme. But Dr Gono indicated that he was not at liberty to disclose the information.
“Section 60 (1) of the RBZ Act [Chapter 22:15] forbids bank staff from disclosing information relating to the affairs of the bank or a customer, unless lawfully required to do so by any court or under any enactment,” he said.
“Anybody who contravenes the section shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level seven or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”
Zhanda said a person called before the parliamentary committee to give any evidence was protected under the privileges of Parliament.
This was despite efforts by Mhondoro-Ngezi legislator Bright Matonga to persuade Zhanda to give Dr Gono some time to approach the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development to seek clearance to give out the information.
“I think we did not tell Dr Gono about all the information we wanted from him, so we should allow him time to get the information before we can proceed,” said Matonga.
“The information, like he is saying, belongs to the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and has to be cleared first to release it. This meeting is not supposed to be a platform for the settlement of scores but the discussion of important national issues.”
A heated argument ensued, leading to Zhanda walking out of the meeting in a huff. House of Assembly chairperson for the Agriculture Portfolio Committee Mr Jiri then advised Dr Gono, his team and the Press to leave. Earlier, Dr Gono had given the committee figures on mechanised implements distributed throughout the country in the two years during which the programme had run.
He gave the figures on a province-by-province basis. The implements included tractors, combine harvesters, harrows, knapsack sprayers and planters.
Dr Gono revealed that machinery worth US$200 million had been distributed to farmers during the programme that was expected to run for five years, but had only been rolled out for two years starting from 2007 to 2008.
During the deliberations, the committee asked Dr Gono to explain the mechanisms used in the distribution of the machinery and how some people ended up with more than one implement. “We distributed the machinery with the assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and the Grain Marketing Board,” said Dr Gono.
“Beneficiaries received implements according to the sizes of their land and the ecological regions in which they are operating. The GMB and the Ministry identified the beneficiaries. They were the ones who had information on the farmers and their production records.”
On who was supposed to make sure the farmers repaid, Dr Gono said it was the duty of the ministries of Finance and Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development to make the necessary follow-ups. He said the Reserve Bank was not capacitated to do the follow-up with a staff of 500. The Herald