BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE Finance ministry yesterday came under fire over how it managed to spend US$3,2 billion in six months, allegedly under the government flagship command agriculture programme between 2017 and 2018.
Acting secretary in the ministry, Zvinechimwe Churu claimed before the Tendai Biti-led Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the US$3,2 billion which almost equals the 2018 national budget amount of US$4,7 billion was given to the Agriculture ministry for purposes of funding command agriculture.
But recently the Agriculture secretary Ringson Chitsiko denied before the same committee that he had received the US$3,2 billion on behalf of his ministry for the programme, leaving question marks over who received the money and how it was spent.
Opposition MPs in PAC said they suspected that the US$3, 2 billion, which was released as Treasury Bills by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe could have been used to fund activities such as elections.
The issue of the money was also raised last week in the National Assembly as a question to Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri who likened the opposition MPs’ interjections to “talking to monkeys and baboons”.
“In 2017, you paid various people a sum of US$1,5 billion, ostensibly in the name of command agriculture and this money was outside the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) and was not budgeted for in the 2017 national budget,” Biti said.
“In 2018, another $1,7 billion was also paid outside the PFMS to farmers for grain deliveries and command agriculture as well as import support and you bastardised the whole process to the extent that in six months you had spent US$3,2 billion illegally,” he said.
Churu claimed that since the country had been bedevilled by drought, government recommended that there were areas that would require huge expenditure and to avoid future imports of grain they said there was need to support command agriculture so that the country grows enough grain.
But Kambuzuma MP Willias Madzimure (MDC Alliance) said US$1,5 billion in 2017 and US$1,7 billion in 2018 was too much money to the extent that the country could have decided not to do farming of grains and use the money to import maize which would last several years.
Marondera Central MP Caston Matewu (MDC Alliance) said there was also no drought in Zimbabwe during 2017/18 period to have required US$3,2 billion to be spent on command agriculture.
Cornered, Churu and Finance ministry accountant-general Daniel Muchemwa admitted that they illegally spent the US$3,2 billion, and that Finance minister Mthuli Ncube will bring the over-expenditure sheet before Parliament this month for condonation.
Biti then noted that it was actually a crime that the Finance ministry spent US$3,2 billion which it could not account for and then lie about how it was used to Parliament.
Chitungwiza North MP Godfrey Sithole (MDC Alliance) further asked: “Where did you make the payment of US$1,5 billion in 2017 and the US$1,7 billion in 2018? Were you pushed by anyone to make the payment and was there political muscle used and was that money going towards elections?”
Churu responded: “I do not know about any political muscle and there is nothing untoward in making that payment. It had nothing to do with elections.”
“You err when you spend 1% or 2%, but when you spend more than 5% it is not erring, it is mafia behaviour,” Biti charged.
The committee also said the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri had revealed in her audit report that the Finance ministry was forcing different ministries to demand money that they did not require outside the Public Finance Management Act.
Biti ordered that the Finance ministry must bring by Friday documentary evidence on how the $3,2 billion was used.