[By Ernest Chanda and Oliver Chisenga]
PART of the fertiliser supplied to government by various sources has been discovered to be of low quality and underweight.
And Socialist Party leader Fred M’membe has charged that government has failed to explain why it single-sourced Alpha Commodities to supply 37,000 tonnes of fertilisers at US $1,407 per tonne while the general market price is $1,000 per tonne.
Government sources have revealed that upon being subjected to tests by the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), part of the consignment was found to be of low quality.
“These fertilisers were meant for various parts of the country, but the most affected was that going to Southern Province. In fact, even the quantities were discovered to be underweight. So the government has asked these suppliers to replace the fertilisers,” the sources told The Mast. “This thing should have been announced some time in December because that is when these things were discovered after rigorous tests as per the government norm. The tradition is that whenever government receives fertilisers from suppliers they are tested by experts at ZARI; and that is what happened even in this scenario. The only problem is that the government has kept quiet instead of informing Zambians. If you want, you can call the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and inquire about this. Tests were done and these were the findings. But of course, not on all the supplies. It’s just that most of those affected were destined for Southern Province.”
When contacted, agriculture minister Reuben Mtolo Phiri confirmed the account and said the government had since informed the suppliers and asked them to replace the commodity.
“No one has refused. How can they refuse because we did the test, isn’t it? So, all we’re doing is we sample here and there and when we find that the fertiliser is not good enough, we ask them to replace it,” he said on Friday. “Yea, we have gotten those reports and our men are on it. Yes, we’ve gotten those reports. I can confirm and our men are on it.”
Asked if the government had told the suppliers to make amends, Mtolo responded: “Well, what is happening is, you know, first we do the test; and when we do the test we confirm, we ask the suppliers to replace.”
When called a second time to clarify other aspects to the story, Mtolo seemingly got agitated and gave a ‘lecture’ to the journalist.
Asked if the affected areas included Southern Province, Mtolo said: “Yes, but you know what, let me say something to you. Some of these stories might look very sensational but the effects they have on the economy can be very, very devastating. So, be very careful the way you write this story. We are on top of things. Every corner where we are receiving a problem, we are making sure that the fertiliser is being replaced. Depending on how you write it, it can become a very difficult situation. Even farmers who have received good fertiliser will start saying we have bad fertiliser. This is where responsibility and patriotism could come in.”
Reminded that contacting him was part of responsible and patriotic journalism, Mtolo continued with his caution.
“Whoever is giving you this information, be very, very careful because we could end up into a lot of complicated situations. This is what I have to say to you, The Mast. It’s a very sensational story for you. But depending on what you write you could create a very, very unnecessary problem. You’re calling me for the second time, it means you are very pleased with what you’re doing. And I can just caution you that be very careful. Be extremely careful,” Mtolo stressed. “The reason I’m saying that, Ernest, is this; you could be given this information by a group of people who think they themselves could not get involved. Now, we are busy checking the stock, alright! We’re busy checking the stock to make sure everywhere we have got good quality fertiliser being given to our people.”
He explained why the government has kept quiet on the matter all along after discovering the anomalies.
And even after being assured that this journalist has been in the industry for close to 20 years now, Mtolo continued cautioning on the manner of projecting the story.
“Remember, I have kept quiet deliberately on this so that we are very sure about what we are doing because I don’t want us to start passing the buck. I’m not one of those who work like that: ‘no, it’s these guys who did like that; blah, blah’… Now, be honest and I would like you to be very careful with what you are about to publish,” he said further. “Zambia is an agricultural area. We know what we are doing. You might make a very serious mistake in your way of handling issues. For you it is news, mbumbumbu. You forget to look for another thing. You find a man walking it’s not news. But you find him dead, it’s news. Be careful, Ernest, with the way you do things…No, because you’re talking to me for one reason; that the Minister of Agriculture has confirmed. That’s just what you wanted. Let me confirm to you once more, that we have received reports of questionable quality of the product that is on the market.”
Mtolo said at a press briefing on Wednesday last week, he cautioned farmers and agro dealers.
“At that press conference I cautioned. You see how we do things at a mature level? I cautioned the farmers and the dealers that, ‘be careful, check the fertilisers that you’re handling’. So, I cautioned generally, picking on things that we are still investigating. You understand, right? Now, your story the way I’m beginning to imagine you want to go about it, you shouldn’t be an impediment to what we’re doing. I’m not stopping you, but I am simply cautioning you to say be careful because we’re investigating this thing,” said Mtolo.
And Dr M’membe challenged the UPND government to explain “why Jangulo was allowed to control, direct, manipulate and falsify a fertiliser audit under its supervision and control”.
“This is pure corruption that this government and the state agencies – ACC, DEC and the police – under its control have failed to deal with,” said Dr M’membe. “Why? Our simple and only explanation is that Jangulo is too close to the key leadership of this government to be touched. He is their partner – he works and eats with them. Clearly, this government’s fight against corruption has gone down the drain.”