President Peter Mutharika appointed seasoned farmer and agricultural expert FELIX JUMBE as board chairperson for the struggling Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc). Jumbe is former president of Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) and former chairperson of the Agriculture Committee of Parliament. With this expertise, Jumbe thinks he can influence change, and have the sinking titanic [Admarc] back on its feet. He speaks to our reporter SUZGO CHITETE.
Admarc has become an economic burden to Malawians. It has been making loses, and the once-trusted organisation is now down on its knees begging for financial bailouts every year. What fresh thinking do you bring to this dying institution?
It is an enormous task. But I believe we can start from somewhere; we will need to assess the original mandate of Admarc. The core business is to be a platform for all commodities in Malawi. This organisation is supposed to provide a ready market to smallholder and commercial farmers. In those days, Admarc would go out scouting for markets locally and internationally. The market issue must be the headache of Admarc and farmers. Admarc must be a bank for commodities and a hub of export. We will work to revive the original mandate.
That was the original mandate, but for you to fix the problem you must know what caused it. How did we depart from the original mandate?
Where we missed it— you can trace it back to the World Bank’s structural adjustment programme in 1980s. The thinking was that the economy should be liberalised and that government should not run businesses but the private sector. This was misleading. We lost the plot. Many governments in the world including China are running businesses. We are an agro-based economy and Admarc is quite strategic to let go. It is a market government must manage and control because it has a serious bearing on the economy.
A number of interventions have been made to revamp Admarc, but it continues to post losses. Does this not compel one to agree with the World Bank reasoning that government is not better placed to run Admarc?
From experience you may be forced to think that way. Admarc is now a limited company under government. It is expected to operate like any other profit-making company. But making it a limited company is not enough.
We need to change the civil service mentality in Admarc where people can afford to be lazy yet get paid at the end of the day. We need to reconfigure Admarc; recruit more of seasoned private sector business minds and reorient the system towards a business mentality. We need to inculcate a business culture in the workforce.
Are you suggesting that the civil service mentality cripples Admarc?
Yes, we need to begin to think business. People in private sector earn a salary while some people in the civil service would say even if I do not work I will still get paid. Admarc must run as a business. We have foreign companies taking over the role of Admarc.
We need Admarc for purposes of enhancing exports and food security in the country. We can’t leave that in the hands of private individuals. We need to change the system and again government must recapitalise Admarc. We need heavy recapitalisation which will go into training of the people and also the working capital.
All these ideas you are sharing, are they going to be part of the strategic plan or it is something you would like to initiate as a new board?
It is something within the plan. I have seen their strategic plan, of course some things are off tangent—not touching on real issues. We will see how we can improve the plan. I think we need to get it right about what we need to do, with necessary resources—we must be able to achieve something. We must aim at making Admarc a forex earner and be able to pay back to government what they may have invested.
Some say the politician [leadership] has killed Admarc, with all these beautiful plans, does the appointing authority have the political will to see Admarc getting to where you wish it to be?
I guess the president has the desire to have Admarc operate like a business. He has done a lot of ground work and I think my appointment is testimony of the president’s desire to see change.
The president knows that Admarc can turn around the economy; if farmers have a ready market that is Admarc and the same organisation makes exports this will benefit not only the national economy but farmers livelihood. Beyond the president we will need support of other partners such parliament.