Sakunda denies ‘State capture’

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BY VENERANDA LANGA

SAKUNDA Holdings yesterday denied capturing government, insisting the Command Agriculture deal was approved by Cabinet and that the company was allocated US$1,010 billion by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), contrary to claims that US$3 billion was advanced towards the project.

The Sakunda chief operations officer Charles Chitambo yesterday appeared before the Tendai Biti-led Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer to allegations that his organisation could not account for US$3 billion it received from the central bank.

But in a major twist, Chitambo said Sakunda, owned by Kudakwashe Tagwirei, an ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, only received US$1,010 billion between June 2016 and May 2019 for the programme.

“We only got US$1,010 billion between June 2016 and May 2019 and it did not come in one instalment. The US$3 billion was for other programmes including the presidential input scheme,” Matambo said.

But PAC was concerned that Sakunda was offered a US$1,010 billion contracts without going to tender as per the State procurement regulations.

Biti queried why Sakunda, a fuel trader got a US$1,010 billion Command Agriculture contract without going to tender and ahead of giants in farm input production such as SeedCo and Windmill.

“The same TB (Treasury Bills)s that were issued to Sakunda could have directly been issued to these companies that supply seed or fertiliser,” Biti said.

Chitambo said government invited about 40 companies to finance the production of maize and other grains like wheat and soyabeans.

“We agreed with the Ministry of Finance that our money will cost about 4½% and we were told that others made proposals that were going to cost the government 12%. We said government would have to assist the programme by supplying foreign currency. We said as citizens, we live in Zimbabwe and we can supply for Command Agriculture,” Chitambo said.

Norton MP Temba Mliswa (independent) asked if Sakunda had not placed government under State capture.

“I do not know whether Hon Mliswa is serious in asking whether we have captured the State,” Chitambo said.

“At Sakunda, we do not feel that we have captured the State. We only feel that we have used our best skills to respond to a national request to revamp the grain situation in this country.”

He added: “We believe we responded to the list of suppliers used by the Agriculture ministry and worked within the price parameters. One does not capture the State, but they do the best they can to address the challenges.”

Biti claimed there was evidence from RBZ that in January 2019 , Sakunda got TBs for the value of US$366m, notwithstanding Statutory Instrument 33 of 2019 which converted US dollar indebtedness into local currency.

The TBs, Biti said, got special protection and remained in US dollar denomination. He claimed Sakunda tried to discount the TBs, but only Ecobank purchased them for US$30m and then Sakunda sold them to the RBZ using the interbank rate.

But Chitambo responded: “The TB of US$366 million was supposed to be in two parts – US$204 million was money that they were trying to pay us for the incoming 2019 season, but the moment we heard that we were not going to run the programme, this US$204 million then went to RBZ.”

He added: “The other US$162m which is the balance – the RBZ governor John Mangudya was aware of that. We had a debt which was going to block further purchases of chemicals and the US$162 million was to be used to deal with old debts for chemicals we had not finished paying for to foreign banks.”

But Biti said in July 2019, the US$366m to Sakunda caused a serious problem in money supply at the interbank rate when the TB was discounted, resulting in the RBZ freezing Sakunda accounts for fuelling the exchange rate problems.

“We only said to the bank that we would like foreign currency and they gave us the US$366m TBs. If someone caused movement in money supply, it was not us because we were paying that money to foreign banks,” Chitambo responded.

Meanwhile, two parliamentary portfolio committees chaired by the main opposition MDC were yesterday disrupted from sitting by Zanu PF MPs who were demanding that the opposition legislators recognise Mnangagwa first.

The Information Communication Technology (ICT) Committee chaired by Chalton Hwende was scheduled to meet the NetOne board over issues of a forensic report that unveiled financial abuse at the institution, but the meeting was prematurely aborted after Zanu PF MPs led by Hurungwe Central MP Doubt Ndiweni vowed that the meeting would not take place.

The other disrupted committee was the Higher Education Portfolio Committee led by Daniel Molokela, but the MDC legislators who constitute the majority members in that committee managed to thwart the disruption.