THE Zimbabwean government has turned to the private sector for support to raise funds needed to buy grain during the current season, a top government official said.
The Ministry of Finance is, among other things, considering courting banks to avail funding for the plan, acting Finance secretary Pfungwa Kunaka told parliament’s portfolio committee on Agriculture on Tuesday.
“We are already working on a strategy; a strategy which will be put to the test is whether or not any of our financial institutions will play a role, but the question is what will happen to the maize because of the private partner,” Kunaka said.
“On the issues of maize, we are already having sleepless nights as a ministry because we know for a fact that there will be a bumper harvest compared to previous seasons.
“We still have challenges in terms of preparedness but we will manage.”
Kunaka said there was no space to raise capital for state owned Agribank to support agriculture due to the liquidity cranch.
He said government was still pursuing privatisation of the bank by disposing off 49 % by year end. The bank’s assets have been valued at US$23 million.
Kunaka’s statements followed similar remarks by Agriculture permanent secretary Ringson Chitsiko that the country was not yet prepared for the harvests as state- owned grain buyer Grain Marketing Board is in a sorry state.
Chitsiko said only one silo in Bulawayo is in proper working condition.
In an update on the parastatals state of preparedness, Chitsiko said the company’s silos are in a dilapidated state and require more than US$7 million for refurbishment.
“The US$7 million related to a deal which we are trying to strike with a Chinese company called Avic where Avic is going to get US$7 million upfront then start refurbishment work,” he said.
The agriculture permanent secretary said a bumper harvest of between 1,6 million and 1,8 million metric tons is expected in the current season.
Out of the total tonnage, GMB is expected to buy 500 000mt while the rest will be purchased by private buyers.
“To buy all the produce from the farmers, say 1million metric tonnes, you need US$700 million and there is no way we can do that that’s why we have limited ourselves to 500 000 mt,” said Chitsiko.
Chitsiko said GMB is currently owed US$44 by government after it used some of its money from commercial operations for the strategic grain reserve operations owing to lack of adequate funding from government.
Chitsiko was under attack for failing to give details on remuneration of low level and top management staff at GMB, with saying it was a sign of incompetence.
This comes at a time a number of executives have lost their jobs at state run institutions after it emerged they were earning hefty salaries and running down the organisations through corrupt means.
GMB receives state funds each year for the purchase of grain without having to account for the money, Lobengula MP Samuel Sipepa-Nkomo said.
“GMB is so incompetent and corrupt that they can just take money from government,” he said.
“My experience as minister is that we give the GMB money to buy maize from the farms, there has never been a return to government. All we do is give money, they are taking the money we give them to buy maize, they sell and then finance their commercial side and yet that money they get should be used as a revolving fund, which they can even give to government.
“Take things like fertilizers and seeds for instance where some bigwigs will come and take inputs whilst the ordinary farmer suffers. They have got their networks, and the perm sec says he doesn’t know when he is supposed to be our eye.”
Zanu PF Makoni South legislator Mandi Chimene said GMB should account for revenue coming from its in house branded Silo product sales.
“You have Silo products which are not donated but sold. Is this money drowning somewhere because those who pack these products and see them generating some revenue are not getting paid,” Chimene said.
“You have failed to tell us how much they earn; perhaps they have too much freedom because you cannot even tell us how much they earn. Are you not the ministry’s accounting officer and if so are you not sleeping on duty?”
The Makoni South MP also demanded information on the salary schedule of top GMB employees following a request for the same details by Zanu PF in Makoni West legislator Kudzai Chipanga.
Chimene raised concern over construction of houses under GMB’s pension scheme at a time employees have gone for six months without pay.
“We are told they have a pension housing scheme that is building beautiful houses, you are preparing for someone’s pension when they are not paid for six months,” she said. “Who is responsible for making such decisions because I think this person has too much power?”