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TIMB grilled over unlicenced tobacco buyers


TOBACCO Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) is in trouble after it emerged that it was allowing some unlicensed companies to buy tobacco crop from unsuspecting farmers.


TIMB chief executive Andrew Matibiri failed to provide satisfactory answers to the Justice Mayor Wadyajena-chaired Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture on Wednesday as to why some companies were buying tobacco without requisite documents.

The committee toured Mbaluk Tobacco, Countryside Leaf, Moonberg, Gem and Sub-Sahara Tobacco.

It emerged during the tour that Countryside Leaf, which is housed on the same premises as Mbaluk, was buying the golden leaf without a licence.

Countryside Leaf managing director Paul Masarirambi, who in 2014 was arrested and charged for smuggling, theft of trust property and forgery, denied to the committee that his company was directly buying tobacco from the farmers saying he was only offering technical assistance to Mbaluk.

“We are not licensed, we are providing technical assistance to Mbaluk,” Masarirambi said.

Masarirambi said the company had 1 000 farmers under contract, but Mbaluk told the same committee that they had contracted 850 farmers. Both companies were accused of swindling tobacco growers.

Wadyajena asked Matibiri why he was allowing companies without licences to operate and also quizzed him over the nature of his relationship with the companies.

“I don’t know these guys, it’s my first time to see them,” Matibiri said.

Asked when he realised that there were companies operating without the required documents, Matibiri said he got the information from the Clerk of Parliament.

“Don’t you have inspectors on the ground?” Wadyajena asked.

But Masarirambi said he was given a letter authorising his company to merge with Mbaluk.  Mbaluk managing director Michael Simbi was at pains to justify the merger between his company and Countryside Leaf.

The committee asked the companies to submit proof of contract agreements as well as inputs given to farmers, invoices from where inputs were procured to Parliament.

TIMB chairman Pat Devenish said the firms did not account for much tobacco purchases.

“The TIMB board at its meeting of Friday 12 June 2020 was notified of the intended visit by the above-named portfolio committee (Agric committee) for tomorrow June 17, 2020 to three tobacco buying companies,” Devenish said. “The board felt that the visit would not serve the intended purpose and would most likely present an uncharacteristic picture of the industry. The entities and premises to be visited do not account for any noteworthy tobacco throughput and some of the entities and companies are not known to or licensed by the TIMB.”

Furthermore, sources said some senior government officials influenced certain legislators to abstain from the tour so that a quorum would not be constituted.

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