THE Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe (TAZ) yesterday alleged corruption in the tobacco industry, with Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) board chairperson Monica Chinamasa’s name coming out prominently as one of the individuals causing confusion in the sector.
Chinamasa is the wife of former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and also founder of the Zimbabwe National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU), which farmers strongly believe constitutes a conflict of interest.
This was revealed when representatives from TAZ, the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) and Boka Tobacco Auction Floors appeared before the Justice Mayor Wadyajena-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture to discuss challenges in the tobacco sector, ahead of the opening of the auction floors on March 20.
TAZ secretary-general Stan Kasukuwere told the committee that the tobacco industry was a cartel bigger than those of marijuana.
“Tobacco is a cartel and it is bigger than mbanje (marijuana) and drugs, and if you (committee) can investigate that on our behalf, because the ZNFU which was formed by Chinamasa, came later than TAZ, and we find that if we are to talk about tobacco corruption, we are sidelined at such meetings,” Kasukuwere said.
“The corruption is that Chinamasa is chairperson of ZNFU and also sits at the TIMB board as chairperson, and how does she then represent the farmers? Whenever we talk, we are sidelined.”
TAZ president George Seremwe alleged that whenever they tried to voice grievances by farmers, they were never taken on board by Chinamasa.
Boka Tobacco Auctions Floors managing director Chido Nyakudya said the golden leaf sector faced foreign currency challenges needed to repair equipment like conveyors and other machinery.
“Our biggest challenge is unauthorised tobacco sales, where we have seen an influx of dealers preying on our grounds and diverting farmers not to deal with us.
This has resulted in loss of sales for us. Another challenge is with the 2% (electronic) transaction tax, where merchants need to bring their money to us and we have to pay the growers,” she said.
“In 2018, we handled $70 million on behalf of merchants. Our revenue is less than 7% of this, but if you calculate 2% of the $70 million, it takes away a big chunk of our revenue and we have requested that the 2% be exempted from transactions between ourselves and growers.”
Nyakudya said vendors were also causing havoc by putting up illegal stalls and posing cholera threats, as well as threatening farmers who come from outside to sleep at the auction floors.
ZTA chief executive officer Rodney Ambrose said 98% of the country’s tobacco was exported, adding that the challenges being experienced this year included the drought, which would result in less tobacco than the 250 000 metric tonnes farmed last season.
“There has been an increase in tobacco contract farmers where 85% to 90% are under contract farming, and only 10% is under tobacco auction floors and the viability of tobacco auction floors is now declining with only three auction floors that sold tobacco last year,” he said.
Ambrose said middlemen were also disturbing business at auction floors, and also blasted TIMB for not adequately representing farmers, saying they hoped the board would be changed because it was also failing to release the $25 million collected from farmers’ levies meant for afforestation.
Chinamasa and TIMB chief executive officer Andrew Matibiri also appeared before the committee, but failed to even give projections of the tobacco crop, resulting in Wadyajena sending them away.
The current TIMB board has served since 2009.