TOBACCO farmers in Eastern Province have threatened to sue the government if it goes ahead to sign an ‘illegal gentleman’s agreement’ with tobacco merchants to suspend the law to regulate the tobacco industry by commencing the procurement of the crop. In a statement, former TBZ board member Chilufya Chishala said some individuals at the Ministry of Agriculture had connived with the merchants to suspend the law, which regulates the tobacco industry as the merchants want to continue ripping off the farmers. Chishala said signing a Memorandum of Understanding would be tantamount to suspending the Republican Constitution thereby breaking the law and that farmers would not allow selfish individuals to benefit off their sweat.
He claimed that the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture was aiding the merchants in their bid to disregard the law. He said the PS has been dinning with tobacco merchants who owe government millions of Kwacha, which could be used to settle a lot of government bills such as salaries for ailing universities.
“Tombwe and JTI is owing a lot of money to TBZ, Alliance One is also owing a lot of money to TBZ and those are the same people that the PS is sitting with and asking to facilitate logistics for meetings while the workers at TBZ have gone for over five months without salaries paid. The PS is behaving like a landlord who accepts money for a bag of mealie-meal from a tenant who owes him money in arrears and refuses to pay him even when he has the money,” Chishala stated.
“TBZ hasn’t monitored the production of tobacco, they are not operating, they are owing a lot of institutions because of the same people and those are the same people the PS is embracing. What type of people are these who are siding with forigners instead of their own? Are these the kind of people the President has entrusted to preside over the affairs of government institutions? We strongly recommend that the President checks on some of these people as they are not only making government unpopular but their actions have a potential to incite workers to rise against government. We are appealing to President Lungu, let him do his own investigations by sending independent people to TBZ and find out for himself what is happening in this industry.”
Chishala said with strict adherence to the law that regulates the industry, Tobacco had the potential to redeem the country economically.
“This country is far from producing tobacco to it’s full potential because of greed. We can produce up to 500 million kilos of tobacco because we have the land and water to do so which can make us even forget about begging for credit from IMF but we lack the political will to do so. We are our own enemies. That is why we are urging the President himself to intervene in this issue because the people he has entrusted to protect the interest of Zambians are failing him,” he stated.
“In the tobacco industry, we have got the Tobacco Act, we have the SIs which the government enacted. Those are the only laws which the government should use to preside over the tobacco industry, anything outside the law has the potential to be challenged in the courts of law. What the PS is proposing is an illegality and as farmers we’ll not stand back and watch while selfish individuals break the law just to suit their personal interests at the expense of suffering farmers. We know that in these other countries where the crop is produced the authorities have stood firmly by the law in their regulation of the production of tobacco.”
Chishala stated that the PS was contradicting the aspirations of his own government.
“By not following the rules and regulations, the merchants are refusing to have Zambian farmers graduate into independent growers. They want all Zambian farmers to be perpetually dependent on them with slavery working conditions,” noted Chishala.
“The PS in supporting these merchants contradicts the aspirations of the government in the SNDP which talks about farmers graduating to independent growers after three years. The refusal by merchants to buy the independent crop compels government to look for money so that it buys off the crop. These are the issues we are trying to avoid, we want to ensure that the law that governs the tobacco industry prevails.”