Fresh row over command agriculture

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A ROW has erupted between parliament and Sakunda Holdings over a probe into the murky financing of government’s command agriculture programme with the fuel supply firm attempting to block the inquiry which is largely centred on the procurement and distribution of inputs and implements to beneficiaries.

Tinashe Kairiza/Elias Mambo

The commodities and energy firm was awarded the tender by government to bankroll the programme in 2015. The company says US$600 million has been used under the programme to date.

Parliament has written to 15 companies involved in the programme requesting proof of purchase of inputs and equipment, proof of delivery and bank statements, among other documents.

The Public Debt Management Office in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development last year questioned the financing of the programme amid revelations that Sakunda traded all the issued Treasury Bills (TBs), in breach of the non-tradability feature of the instruments, although government had the option to trade its TBs directly to the market. This raised suspicion that the project was being funded by taxpayers.

There have also been allegations of abuse of funds, late delivery of inputs and equipment despite some companies receiving advance payment.

According to documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda wrote to Petoire Private Limited director Byron Nhira and several other companies involved in the programme, among them SeedCo, Sable Chemicals, Windmill and Fossil Agro.

“The above portfolio committee (Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement portfolio committee) is currently conducting an inquiry into the financing of the Command Agriculture Programme,” the letter reads.

“You are kindly being requested to submit the following documents on or before 10 February 2018: Contract with Sakunda, company profile and directorship, proof of purchase of inputs and equipment, proof of delivery and bank statements.”
The letter to Petoire triggered a robust response from Sakunda chief operations officer Mberikwazvo Chitambo.

Chitambo called on parliament to stop the probe in a letter dated February 5 2018, arguing it should allow an ongoing government audit into the financing of Command Agriculture to be finalised. He also distanced Petoire from the programme.

Sakunda Holdings, which was also controversially awarded the US$498 million contract to construct the 200 megawatt Dema Emergency Power Plant without going to tender by government, also requested Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement portfolio committee chairperson Justice Mayor Wadyajena to recuse himself from presiding over the probe because of legal battles between the energy firm and the legislator’s private company.

In one of the court cases, the Gokwe-Nembudziya legislator’s firm, Mayor Logistics Private Limited, filed a joint litigation against Sakunda Energy (Pvt) Ltd, Sakunda Logistics (Pvt) Ltd and Kudakwashe Regimond Tagwirei over a US$633 670 debt following a botched compromise agreement between the parties.
The lawsuits are registered at the High Court under case numbers HC 11292/17, HC10546/17, HC9587/17 and HC9578/17.
“Petoire upon receiving this letter approached Sakunda for clarification as they have not had any dealings with respect to Command Agriculture,” Chitambo wrote.

“Firstly, it is our considered opinion that the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Honourable Justice Mayor Wadyajena is conflicted and should thus recuse himself from this matter and any others involving Command Agriculture and Sakunda Holdings. The conflict arises from the fact that Sakunda Holdings is currently engaged in a number of legal cases against Honourable Wadyajena.”
The fuel supply firm also sought to distance Petoire Private Limited from any involvement in the financing of Command Agriculture.

In the letter, copied to Finance secretary Willard Manungo, Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement secretary Ringstone Chitsuku and Command Agriculture Taskforce chairperson Justin Mupamhanga, Sakunda questioned how Parliament managed to extract details of the bank transfer it wired to Petoire Private Limited.

“The Command Agriculture contracts were entered into by the government of Zimbabwe and Sakunda Holdings. Petoire Private Limited has never been involved in the contract negotiations,” Chitambo wrote.
“It appears that the Committee, or rather someone who sits on the committee has managed to access Sakunda’s bank account records as it is stated that Sakunda made bank payments to Petoire. We would like to understand how such information was obtained as we have not availed such.”

Sakunda’s unsolicited response triggered a letter from Chokuda on February 12. Chokuda said “there is no legal basis” for Wadyajena to recuse himself from presiding over the probe and that the energy firm had no right to reply on behalf of Petoire.

Parliament also insisted that it would press ahead with its investigation.

Nhira could not be reached for comment. A visit to Number 112 Swan Drive in Harare’s New Alexandra Park suburb — where Parliament delivered the letter to Petoire — was fruitless as people at the house said the firm was not situated at the address.

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