Parly to name GMB looters

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Finance minister Tendai Biti yesterday told Parliament to intensify investigations into the rampant corruption at the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and name the individuals implicated in the looting of farm inputs.

Senior government officials including cabinet ministers are accused of having stolen government-subsidised inputs, including fertilisers meant to benefit farmers amid reports the GMB had failed to account for grain reserves at its depots.

Biti told Parliament government had allocated $171 million — the biggest allocation to agriculture since independence — towards the inputs subsidy scheme, contrary to claims by Zanu PF officials that the minister had sought to sabotage agriculture by underfunding the sector.

“Recently Cabinet received audited accounts of the GMB from the Comptroller and Auditor General and these were a complete disaster in that they could not even produce a set of accounts,” said Biti.

“The GMB is overstaffed and their wage bill is $10 million and they could not even account for the grain reserves.”

Biti, who appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Water, Lands and Resettlement chaired by Chikomba Central MP Moses Jiri, also attributed the current shortage of top-dressing fertiliser to looting by greedy “chefs (political heavyweights) and chiefs”.

“That list (of alleged input looters) will be composed of the ‘who is who’ in Zimbabwe and it is chefs and chiefs who stole the ammonium nitrate,” said Biti.

“I allocated $171 million, which is the biggest allocation for inputs since independence, but we then have shortages of ammonium nitrate and the reason is not because government did not buy the fertiliser, it is that there are people who have stolen it and Vice-President Joice Mujuru spoke about it publicly two weeks ago. The fertiliser was stored at GMB, but chefs drove their trucks and stole the ammonium nitrate.

“Total support on agriculture by the inclusive government has been close to $2 billion and in 2012 we project $464,5 million. When people say we are not financing agriculture, it is either illiteracy or dishonesty, or both,” he said.

Biti said there had been a decline in agricultural production with the maize yield this year projected at 1,8 million metric tonnes.

He told the committee it was impossible for farmers to expect government to finance agriculture and said the private sector and banks should be the major financiers as per the norm in other countries.

However, he said the Zimbabwean situation was complicated as farmers did not have bankable leases to use as collateral when borrowing from banks.

“Government support for farming was $644 million, development partners contributed $134 million and banking sector support to agriculture totalled $837 635, and we have also received lines of credit from AFC of South Africa of $30 million through Agribank,” he said.

Biti suggested there should be maize sales floors just like tobacco sales floor in order to deal with distortions in pricing.