THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed concern over the limited levels of transparency and accountability on the country’s agriculture import substitution programme, widely known as Command Agriculture, amid growing criticism of the scheme.
Zimbabwe, once regarded as the bread basket of Africa due to good agricultural output and favourable climatic conditions, has over the years experienced a huge slump in the sector’s contribution to the economy after production was disrupted by the controversial land reform programme embarked on at the turn of the millennium and bad policies.
The land reform programme, which government says was meant to correct colonial legacies, resulted in over 4 000 white commercial farmers losing vast tracts of land to mainly black Zimbabweans.
In an attempt to reverse this trend, government introduced several programmes such as the farm mechanisation programme and later on the Command Agriculture scheme which saw the government subsidising farming inputs such as seed, agrochemicals and fertilisers. Critics however say the programme is not only a huge burden on taxpayers but is shrouded in secrecy and is also linked to the ruling Zanu PF benefactors.
Following a public outcry over the facility, the government partnered with local bank CBZ in rolling out the programme, but critics say more disclosures are needed.
A detailed IMF report released this month after conclusion of Article IV Consultations shows that the programme is not only fraught with risks but also lacks the transparency.
“Although the input financing under the Common Agriculture Programme was transferred to the banking system under a risk sharing arrangement, risks to the budget remain as the government provides an 80% credit default guarantee,” the IMF said in its latest report on the country.
“Limited information, including on costs and beneficiaries, hampers the assessment of the effectiveness of the programmes.”
Last month, a damning parliamentary report on Command Agriculture exposed how former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe superintended over a murky and illegal process through dubious approvals of Treasury Bills that have saddled the government with a debt of nearly US$1.6 billion.
According to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report presented in March following a two-year probe on how funds were used under the Special Maize Programme better known as Command Agriculture, Chinamasa and the central bank disregarded the law in discharging the programme. Members of Parliament are now calling on the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) to probe their actions, which bordered on criminality.
Parliamentarians have also called for a forensic audit to establish how much the country lost in the shady arrangement, done outside the tender process.
The report showed that several companies, including Sakunda Holdings owned by business tycoon Kudakwashe Tagwirei (pictured), who is President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s adviser, were implicated in the shoddy transactions and continue to be involved in this scheme. 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.
Reacting to the report, former Finance minister Tendai Biti raised the red flag, alleging that the final report was doctored to exonerate corrupt individuals.