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RBZ misled you on US$840m command agric funds, GMB tells MPs

Tendai Biti, chairperson of the Public Accounts Parliamentary Portfolio Committee.

Grain Marketing Board senior officials have denied receiving US$840 million earmarked for the government’s controversial command agriculture programme, telling the Public Accounts Parliamentary Portfolio Committee that it had been misled by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).

Appearing before the Tendai Biti-led committee, GMB operations manager Clemence Guta told legislators that GMB’s role in command agriculture was to act as a storage and distribution agent. It was not a procuring authority and so did not handle payments for inputs and payments, Guta averred.

“In 2017 and 2018, the RBZ did the procurement. All payments for the inputs were done by the RBZ, so to say that we received money for inputs and imports is misleading. We signed contracts as a receiving agent and RBZ as the paying agent. In 2019-2020 we are not a signatory to either the presidential input scheme or Command Agriculture,” Guta added.

The GMB’s response compounded the mystery surrounding the fate of the US$840 million fund plus a further US$43 million identified in the Auditor General’s report. Guta’s statement contradicted RBZ deputy governor Khupukile Mlambo’s submission to the same committee in 2019 that the central bank had paid the money to GMB. The Ministry of Lands had also informed the committee last year that it had never received the funds and so could not account for its use.

“The evidence we got from (the then permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Ringson) Chitsiko is that the issue could best be explained by the GMB. You need to take this committee seriously. There is not a single question that you have been able to respond to. The ministry of agriculture knows nothing, the ministry of finance says it only released funds, the RBZ says it was payment agency. Where is the money?” Biti asked.

In response, Guta, with the support of the GMB acting finance director Constancia Dzeka, said the committee had been misled by the RBZ.

“You were misled by the RBZ. The RBZ did not pay anything on behalf of GMB because Command Agriculture was never a GMB programme in terms of accounting. To say GMB was running the programme is not true,” Guta said after independent Norton MP Temba Mliswa had demanded clarity on whether he was accusing government of lying to Parliament.

The committee roasted Dzeka for not keeping records of the value of the inputs the GMB stored both for the Presidential Inputs Scheme and Command Agriculture.

“We had no reason to keep those records because there is a Command Agriculture department responsible for that at the ministry. GMB would never lay claim if the inputs were stolen. All it did was to keep records of what we received as well as the breakages received. We also kept records of what we distributed,” Dzeka said.

The controversial command agriculture programme has been buffeted by allegations of corruption, with the government last year failing to account for about US$3 billion allocated to the programme.

In 2019, officials from the lands and agriculture ministry told the Public Accounts Portfolio Committee that the US$3 billion cited in the Auditor-General’s 2018 report never reached the ministry and records to show how the funds were utilised were also not available. The funding disappeared through the system and the authorities could not give account of how the money was used.

Neither Perrance Shiri, the minister of lands, agriculture and rural resettlement, who is in charge of command agriculture, nor President Emmerson Mnangagwa has given any public explanation on the funds in question. – Additional reporting by Daily News/Zimbabwe Independent.

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