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OPEN UP…on fertiliser transaction, govt being defrauded – Mundubile

BRIAN Mundubile says the government should not lay double standards in the fight against corruption.

On Monday, The Mast published a story where government sources revealed that part of the fertiliser supplied by various companies was of low quality.

The sources said upon being subjected to tests by the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), part of the fertiliser was also found to be underweight.

“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. 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,” said Mtolo. “…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. 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. The reason I’m saying that, 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.”

Reacting to the expose, Mundubile who is PF chairperson for legal affairs said the UPND government must be very open about the transaction.

“Government cannot apply double standards on the issues of suspected corrupt activities. So, if there is suspicion that somebody acted in a manner that can be attributed to corrupt deeds then they should proceed in the usual fashion that they have been going about exposing these things,” he said. “Previously we said we can fight corruption quietly, do investigations quietly, but they chose a mode of going out loud; calling out people, calling out companies. So, they might as well do it even to this one. Then people will respect their fight against corruption because they will be consistent and coherent.”

He demanded the government explains the terms of the contract to the public.

“There has been a breach on the part of the supplier, so what does the contract say; the contract that the supplier and the client agreed upon? A contract anticipates situations such as those. How did the agreement expect to resolve those issues…that’s from a contract point of view,” Mundubuile said. “A contract always provides how a relationship is supposed to continue and dealt with if at all there has been breach on either party.”

He wondered at what stage the government discovered that the fertiliser being supplied was underweight and of low quality.

Mundubile said the transaction also showed an element of fraud from the suppliers.

“The criminal aspect of it begin to kick in, so initially it’s civil; it’s just a contract but if you look through it and that there was deceit or that the supplier aimed to gain a profit out of supplying underweight fertiliser, then we invite other investigative wings to get interested in exactly what was happening there,” he explained. “The first part is a contract. What does the contract say? How did they agree to resolve a difference or if there is a breach?”

Mundubile said if it was established that the suppliers meant to defraud government then they should be brought to book.

He said President Hakainde Hichilema was very clear on transactions such as the current fertiliser deal.

“President Hakainde Hichilema is very clear on transactions such as those because it’s a danger to the food security of this country. Meaning that farmers are going to get a raw deal. And secondly, the government who is paying for this fertiliser is being defrauded of the much-needed revenue. So government must be very open about this transaction,” said Mundubile.

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