Government yesterday cancelled at the eleventh hour a scheduled press briefing on the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) in Lilongwe citing unavailability of some key ministers who were supposed to be in attendance.
The highly-anticipated briefing was expected to address numerous concerns surrounding preparations and implementation of this year’s AIP amid reports of controversies ranging from authorities being duped in fertiliser import deals and delays to release list of beneficiaries.
According to a communication from Ministry of Information, Minister of Information and Digitisation Gospel Kazako, Minister of Lands Sam Kawale and Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe were expected to jointly hold the presser.
But after cancelling the meeting, Kazako explained in an interview that the ministers could not attend because they were attending another meeting.
He said: “We will do one soon. We will announce the date. AIP is the programme of the people and we will certainly update the nation accordingly. Remember it is us who called for this press interaction.”
Asked to shed some light on why government has delayed rolling out the programme this year, Kazako called for calm saying everything is in control.
Government has not announced the number of beneficiaries for this season but according to the yet-to-be released guidelines, they have been trimmed to 2.5 million from 3.7 million last season with 30 000 getting two goats each valued at K80 000, equivalent to the government’s fertiliser contribution to each farmer.
Kawale, on the other hand, did not respond to our inquiries on why the Ministry of Agriculture did not follow procurement laws in the awarding of a fertiliser contract to a UK–based company, thus sidelining relevant offices such as Government Contracting Unit (GCU), Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority mandated to vet high-value contracts.
President Lazarus Chakwera has also not commented on the dubious deal despite the public’s anticipation for such.
Kawale, who is also AIP taskforce chair, has not announced how much fertiliser government has secured to meet the 350 000 metric tonnes (MT) demand for a smooth implementation of the programme.
In an interview last week, Fertiliser Association of Malawi executive administrative officer Mbawaka Phiri said that private fertiliser suppliers have a deficit of about 260 000 MT that needs to be imported in the next two months to meet the demand of 350 000 MT.
According to her, the companies have since January imported 130 000 MT of fertiliser, out of which 40 000 MT was used towards the end of the 2021/22 agricultural season and are remaining with 90 000 MT.
Secretary for Agriculture Sandram Maweru also issued a statement on Thursday indicating that Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi contracted a UK-based company Barkaat Foods Limited which has failed to supply 25 000 MT of fertiliser.
He was responding to an allegation by Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture chairperson Sameer Suleman who claimed that government was duped of K30 billion in the fertiliser deal.