JTI Leaf Malawi, one of the country’s tobacco buyers and processors, has expressed concern over the rollout of the Tobacco Industry Act of 2019 which is riddled within challenges.
JTI Leaf Malawi corporate affairs and communications director Limbani Kakhome said in a written response that the review of the Act and introduction of its subsidiary legislation are not being given priority despite calls from various stakeholders asking for a review.
He said: “Best practice in governance is requiring regulatory boards to have a balance of the core stakeholders on boards so that the interests of stakeholders are adequately taken on board when delivering regulatory oversight.
“The non-appointment of relevant stakeholders is in our view going against the grain of such modern forms of governance. The industry needs to take a more strategic and proactive evidence-based approach than being reactionary as it is currently now.”
Section 8 (6) of the Act states that the Tobacco Commission (TC) board vacancies should be filled within three months, yet a representative of the buyers association on the board is yet to be replaced following his resignation in March 2021.
On the other hand, Section 70 (1) states that minimum prices must be set before the beginning of each growing season, but TC is yet to announce the minimum prices to date.
This year, contracted growers were not allowed to access inputs for complementary crops on loan because Section 45(3) prohibits such support to be given to growers to produce alternative crops yet the same law encourages crop diversification.
Using the Act, TC barred buyers from providing inputs to their contracted growers for alternative crops.
Former TC board chairperson Harry Mkandawire, who is now Deputy Minister of Defence, confirmed having received a resignation letter from the then JTI Leaf Malawi managing director Fries Vanneste as board member early last year. However, the vacant post is yet to be filled.
Mkandawire said: “He wrote me, as TC board chairperson then, to say he has resigned because he has been posted to Europe.”
In a written response, TC spokesperson Telephorus Chigwenembe said it was the responsibility of the Department of Statutory Corporations to appointment parastatal board members.
On concerns about delays to release minimum prices, he said between the start of the growing season to the opening of the marketing season, a lot has happened affecting the variables involved in the minimum price build-up, including prices of inputs.
“Setting minimum prices before the start of the farming season would, therefore, be misleading,” he said.
During the official opening of the 2021 tobacco market at Kanengo in Lilongwe last year, President Lazarus Chakwera directed the Ministry of Agriculture to review the Act and work on improvements to the legislation to make it friendly to the industry players as the 2019 amendments left some areas that are still unresolved.