THE Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is mired in serious financial problems which have resulted in delays in purchasing maize from farmers and failure to pay workers for seven months, raising fears the country’s strategic grain reserve could dwindle further.
Government sources who spoke to The Zimbabwe Independent this week said Zimbabwe is expecting 1,6 million tonnes of maize this year against a total annual requirement of 1,8 million for human and livestock consumption. The deficit will be reduced by imports.
The sources however said deliveries to the GMB might be seriously affected by late payments to farmers.
“The farming season has generally been good with the country expecting 1,6 million tonnes, which is only 200 000 tonnes short of the annual requirement,” said a source.
“However the problem has to do with slow payment to farmers which may result in many choosing to sell their grain elsewhere. As it stands GMB owes farmers over US$6 million for previous deliveries, but it cannot do anything without support from Treasury.”
The failure to pay for deliveries has led to a public spat between Agriculture minister Joseph Made and his deputy Paddy Zhanda.
Last week, Zhanda told the National Assembly government is encouraging farmers to sell their maize to private buyers since the GMB does not have funds.
“Farmers do not have to sell their maize to the GMB, there are other people who can buy the maize,” Zhanda said adding “if you sell to the GMB then you should know that there are difficulties in terms of resources, so you have to be prepared to wait in the queue (to get paid).”
However, Made quashed Zhanda’s claims saying the GMB had been tasked to continuously buy maize from farmers throughout the season.
“The GMB has been tasked by government to buy maize as it relates to the strategic grain reserve, which requires 500 000 metric tonnes annually, and I want to emphasise that the GMB is not a buyer of last resort,” said Made.
Meanwhile workers at the agro-based parastatal this week told the Zimbabwe Independent that they have gone for seven months without pay as the liquidity crunch continues to bite.
GMB corporate affairs communications manager Muriel Zemura requested questions be sent via email, but had not responded at the time of going to print.
The financial squeeze the GMB finds itself in is symptomatic of the problems bedevilling parastatals in Zimbabwe.
This week Zimbabwe United Passenger Company officials appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government where they revealed that the parastatal was saddled with US$19,7 million debt, and unaudited accounts dating back to 2009.
Workers at the beleaguered parastatal besieged the company’s head offices recently demanding their salaries. They had not been paid their April and May salaries. Financial troubles at the transport company have been so severe that in March the company decided to send workers on unpaid leave for three months.
The situation is a mirror reflection of the crisis at the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) where workers were reduced to destitution after almost a year without salaries. Ziscosteel, once the largest integrated steel works in the region, was run into the ground turning the city of Redcliff in Kwekwe into a virtual ghost town. It has only begun showing signs of life after the coming in of Indian investor, Essar Africa Holdings.
In a recent interview with businessdigest, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Japhet Moyo said problems at parastatals were due to rampant abuse and mismanagement.
He said the poor performance of most parastatals was due to the appointment of unqualified individuals to senior managerial positions because of their party affiliation as well as the scourge of corruption.
The GMB has a long history of loss-making and mismanagement. In 2012, the parastatal held its first annual general meeting in 81 years and in the same year, former State Enterprises and Parastatals minister Gorden Moyo presented a damning report to cabinet detailing how parastatals were continuing to perform dismally with the majority making losses amounting to millions of United States dollars.
He also accused parastatals of over-recruitment, claiming that GMB had more than 2 000 soldiers and graduates from the youth training camps within its ranks.