By Rainbow Reporter
The silence by Agriculture minister Reuben Mtolo Phiri over the multi-million fertilizer scandal which has shaken the nation is too loud to be ignored some stakeholders have charged.
All this comes in the wake of revelations that over 120, 299.12 metric tonnes of fertilizer worth over US $128 Million dollars was still outstanding. The bulk of this money has already been disbursed to the firms.
Information reaching the Rainbow Newspaper indicates that contracts signed by all the firms to supply the fertilizer should have completed their countrywide distribution by May last year (2021), but up to now, not all areas have been covered while no sanctions have been meted against any of the defaulting firms.
A damming audit carried out by government seems to also have been suspended or left gathering dust in some office cabinet while peasant farmers are wallowing in uncertainty amidst a threatened national food deficit.
An independent investigation instituted by the Rainbow Newspaper has unravelled an intricate matrix of deception and chicanery between some government employees, some banks and some players in the fertilizer supply and distribution chain.
Some members of the public who refused to be named have challenged Mr. Phiri to tell the nation why it was taking too long to report the matter to law enforcement agencies even when it was established that there were glaring irregularities in the procurement, supply and delivery of fertilizer under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP).
They contend that it is alarming that even after such revelations, the minister neglected or has totally ignored to keep the public abreast through a statement on the seemingly well-orchestrated illegal scheme to defraud Zambians of their livelihood.
Small Farmers Development Agency (SAFADA) Chief Executive Officer Boyd Moobwe said it was disheartening that after pre-election promises that once voted into office, government would take care of the affairs of peasants, it was slowly turning into a pipe dream, because inputs were still not delivered in some areas and authorities were silent.
He said it has been over two months since the official farming input distribution season ended and yet no tangible explanation had been rendered for the failure to deliver inputs, throwing the farming season in disarray.
Mr. Moobwe said there was too much dishonesty in the handling of the FISP and those who have failed to account must be brought to book.
And Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) Public Relations Manager Calvin Kakoma Kalayi said he was aware that the Agriculture minister had been using silent diplomacy with the defaulting firms in the hope that they can make good on their contractual obligations.
Mr. Kaleyi however implored the defaulting fertilizer distributors to quickly complete their contracts cautioning that they risked being blacklisted.
But Rainbow Newspaper investigations have further revealed that according to the two-year rolling contracts signed by the fertilizer firms with government, the distribution should have been completed in May last year.
The nationwide deficit which is estimated at about 120,000 metric tonnes is not because government has failed to pay distributors of the fertilizer, but because of outright failure or deliberate dubious deals and concealment of records bordering on criminal intent.
The independent investigation reveals among other dirty schemes, a cleverly orchestrated, well-oiled ploy duping the banks to release money using fake proof of delivery notes when in fact, no stocks had been delivered.
A countrywide check on the distribution trends showed that only two companies with a completely indigenous Zambian shareholding portfolio, Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia (NCZ) and Alpha Commodities had delivered 100 per cent on their obligations.
Neira’s Investments, Nyimba Investments, Rockcliffe Trading FZC, Zambian Fertilizers/ETG failed the full compliance test in one way or the other despite some of these firms having received full payment.
According to some of the government contracts seen by the Rainbow Newspaper, NCZ was allocated 10,000 metric tonnes worth US $10,000, Nyimba Investments, 103,130 metric tonnes worth US $ 103,072,400.00, Neira’s Investments Limited 135,000 metric tonnes worth US $131,142,683.00.
Others were Rockcliffe Trading FZC 15,000 metric tonnes worth US $15,659, 662.00., Alpha Commodities 10,000 metric tonnes worth US $9,423,632.00 and Zambian Fertilizers/ETG 55,000 metric tonnes worth US $54,850,392.00.
Bringing the total tonnage contracted for the 2021/2022 season to 328,655 metric tonnes worth US $ 324,148,769.00
NCZ and Alpha Commodities were able to fulfil their contractual obligations by April and May last year in full. The other four named firms have up to now failed to deliver even when the contracts allowed them up to four weeks to make up for contract failures following the deadlines.
Also disconcerting and is seemingly ignored by authorities is the brazen disregard and deliberate ploy by the ‘culprits’ who still owe in millions of dollars on unsupplied public goods.
For example, in the case of Neria’s Investments, which was tasked to supply to Eastern, Muchinga, Central and Northern provinces, investigations suggested the firm under supplied in all the areas it was contracted to deliver by 53,508 29 metric tonnes.
For Nyimba, glaring irregularities were noted such as one Goods Received Note (GRN) document showing that a single truck had delivered 15,000 bags of 50 kgs of fertilizer which is impossible.
Some workers that Rainbow Newspaper reporters spoke to denied having ever seen trucks purported to have delivered the fertilizer according to the some suspicious GRN records bringing to a rise in speculation that documents may have been doctored and hence a 12,560 metric tonnes shortfall in deliveries.
Zamfert /ETG also registered discrepancies in its areas of supply, for instance, the Copperbelt which was under supplied by 228 metric tonnes, Central province was over supplied by 1,023.75 metric tonnes while Luapula and Western provinces were over supplied by 90.80 and 31.85 metric tonnes respectively.
Disturbing reports reaching the Rainbow Newspapers have also indicated that some documents for some fertilizer suppliers may have been altered while some are missing.
So far, none of the erring firms have been brought to book or even asked to re-imburse the millions of dollars based on failure to deliver.