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Command Agriculture scandal explodes

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Biti says final report doctored

says cartels milking billions

FORMER Finance minister Tendai Biti has raised a red flag over the recently publicised report on Command Agriculture that exposed how a former minister and the central bank oversaw the murky approval of Treasury Bills that burdened the government with a debt of nearly US$1.6 billion.

MOSES MATENGA

Biti alleges that the final report was doctored to exonerate corrupt individuals.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, presented over a fortnight ago, exposed how billions of dollars were looted by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cronies and companies linked to them under the Special Maize Programme better known as Command Agriculture.  The report cited former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and the central bank for allegedly disregarding the law in discharging the programme.

Chinamasa and the central bank, the report said, administered a suspicious and illegal process through dubious approvals of Treasury Bills.

But Biti, who was the PAC chairperson before he was recalled in 2020 by the MDC-T, alleged that over US$3 billion was abused under the scheme.

He told The NewsHawks that although the report ultimately presented by current PAC chairperson and Gweru Urban member of Parliament Brian Dube exposed graft and looting, it lacked focus on a number of key issues that showed how cartels were controlling the Zimbabwean economy.

“I did the work, I did interviews of chairpersons, so I am extremely disappointed that the conclusions are not the conclusions we had made at the time,” Biti said.

“At some stage the committee got captured and at some stage certain individuals prevailed because certain exonerations made were not our findings,” said Biti, the former Harare East MP, who is seeking re-election this weekend.

“Be that as it may, the report essentially makes the findings that Command Agriculture is captured, Command Agriculture is corrupt and it is not in the national interest. That is so self-evident.”

“What is also self-evident is that Command Agriculture is benefitting cartels,” he said.

“lt is also self-evident that the ministry of Agriculture is not in control, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is not in control and that at least comes out from the doctored version that was presented in Parliament,” Biti said.

Biti said the Command Agriculture scheme must be disbanded as it is a feeding trough for the elite at the expense of the country.

“Command Agriculture must be disbanded because it is just a feeding trough for the boys and the cartels. It is quite clear is that out of every dollar that is devoted to command agriculture, only 20 cents is going to agriculture; the rest is going to vehicles, these companies and to certain powerful individuals in Zimbabwe. So Command Agriculture must be disbanded.”

The report confirmed that cars were bought for senior government officials as part of the scheme.

“It is also clear that command agriculture is being funded through the back door of Treasury Bills so I think that the Public Finance Management Act must be amended so that the minister doesn’t have any powers of issuing any Treasury Bills.”

“It is also self-evident that the constitution and the Public Finance Management Act must be strengthened so that a minister cannot spend outside Parliament, a minister cannot spend outside the Consolidated Revenue Fund and outside the budget.”

“The central bank has outlived its usefulness. It is now a portal of looting. Look at the way they are looting foreign currency. Look at the way that it is engaging in quasi-fiscal activities. A case is made in those reports for the total disbanding of the Reserve Bank and adoption of a currency board in Zimbabwe.”

Biti said the Command Agriculture programme was being treated as a parallel budget and there was a need to put a cap on domestic debt.

“We need to put a cap on domestic debt because Command Agriculture is a parallel budget. If you look at 2017, Command Agriculture spent US$2.7 billion when the national budget was US$3 billion. In 2018, Command Agriculture spent  US$3.5 billion when the national budget was US$3.5 billion, 2020 Command Agriculture spent US$6.8 billion when the national budget was US$4 billion. The budget for Command Agriculture is bigger than the national budget and yet it is not approved by Parliament. A parallel government is being run elsewhere and you can’t run a country like that.”

Hiwever, Biti has ruffled feathers, with mainly Zanu PF MPs accusing him of lying and exaggerating the amounts just to push a misleading narrative on “cartels”.

Several companies, including Sakunda Holdings owned by business tycoon Kudakwashe Tagwirei (pictured) who is President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s adviser, are implicated in the report. Sakunda got millions of dollars without going through requisite tender processes.

Other companies which took part in the Command Agriculture programme are FSG, Quton, Pedstock, Cottco, Sable Chemicals, Valley Seeds, Seed Co, Windmill and ZFC.

In the report, the PAC said it was “gravely concerned” that these huge amounts were spent outside the Appropriation Act, in breach of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Public Finance Management Act.

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