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Rusty Markham: This regime must desist from corruption in agriculture

By Rusty Markham

Recent announcements by the government, that it would disburse $2.8 billion for the Command Agriculture and issuing some $300 million in Treasury bills is a serious cause for concern, judging by the murkiness that has surrounded the same over the years.

Rusty Markham
Rusty Markham

The regime has failed to grasp that, after three years of Implementation that Command agriculture has totally failed. The fact that both, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture, continue with this programme shows that they are involved in the looting and are incompetent. The country is facing starvation despite billions being pumped into agriculture.

Currently, Zimbabwe is in need of 900 tonnes of maize at an estimated landed price of US$198 million, 300 tonnes of wheat at a landed price of US$108 million as well as 80 tonnes of soya at a price of about US$36, 8 million, although it appears that the direct import of cooking oil is supplementing soya at a greater expense.

We require mitigating the various effects of the failed command agriculture Programme which has cost the country billions of dollars yet the country continues to import grain.

In both the Transitional Stabilisation Plan and ZimAsset, the government did set up various programs including the Special Maize Programme, Command agriculture and the presidential input scheme to mitigate the shortages of food security, and to reduce the effects of climate change but all these were a complete failure.

Forensic audits show that the Ministry failed to account for over USD3 billion pumped into this sector, after the so-called new dispensation took over in November 2017. Not only did the Ministry of Agriculture fail to account, they have dismally failed to impact this vital industry in any form of production.

Maize yields stand at below 0, 75 tonnes a hectare, and the lowest in the sub-continent while the current winter wheat crop is a disaster!

Yet Mr. Mnangagwa’s government continues to recycle the same old but failed mantra.

Command agriculture for example, is operationally, under the Office of the President and Cabinet, with expenditure being accounted by the Ministry of Agriculture. Complicating the whole issue is that direct payments are being made to the supplier, by the RBZ/Ministry of Finance without the knowledge of the Ministry of Agriculture. This is totally untraceable and unaccountable, and an act of self-enrichment while the nation starves. This is austerity for the poor and prosperity for the elite who are looting funds through this murky programme.

The question is simple: why would you release to a Ministry $2.8 billion when they have not accounted for 3.1 billion in the past?

The minister’s livestock references to various cattle diseases are all a result of a collapsed veterinary program where a regime of dipping and treating has collapsed. While we are sure the false and hollow sanctions narrative will be shouted hoarse, our predicament is solely due to bad management and lack of production in the sector, leading to acute shortages of foreign currency.

It is well known that the forex crisis is due to the bogus 1:1 rate held onto by the Minister of Finance in order to placate the various cartels in the fuel, gold, and grain sectors as well as fellow “inmates” at the RBZ.

The agriculture supplementary budget brings the consolidated revenue to 3, 5 billion ZL$, (or US$ 400Million). The bulk of this money is allocated to three areas.

• A total of 1.5 billion allocated to the Strategic Grain Reserves ( handled by the GMB)
The GMB has recently been made a monopoly, being the sole purchaser of grain. The operation is totally corrupt and has a record of non-payment and unaccountable stock levels. Recent reports indicated huge stocks written off as unfit for human consumption. The idea of a sole grain trader is also to control import permits while the nation has a large deficit. This is to facilitate arbitrage or “rent seeking” by the politically connected.

• A further $1,9 billion allocated to the Agricultural Inputs Scheme ( handled under the OPC’s Command Programme ). Following the unaccountable 3 billion dollars, this appears to follow the mantra of doggedly pursuing failed policies to suit a few self-enriching agendas.

• The vulnerable Input Scheme receives consolidated revenue of 780 million. A noble idea, however managed to benefit political ends in the rural areas. This scheme needs to be revamped, made accountable and non-political, to exclude the elite.

As the MDC, we insist on this regime to desist from the culture of corruption, unaccountability and self-enrichment. This can only be done with government abiding by its own laws, reversing the institutional demise of bodies that has been caused by political appointees. Only a prudent strategy agreed to by all stakeholders and imputed in a forum of openness and democracy can reverse the rot.

While the regime continues with the same old policy, with the same management, we raise concern over the handling of both the drought relief and the inputs for the coming season. The looting is taking precedence over good agricultural practices and programs.

Rusty Markham
Secretary for Lands and Agriculture
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)