Tobacco Commission (TC) has threatened to deal with unscrupulous tobacco transporters who are demanding extra money from farmers, saying they should stop the malpractice or face the law.
In a statement, the commission says it has noted with concern that some transporters are demanding the non-existent “booking fees” from farmers to transport and register their tobacco at the auction floors.
The commission says the claimed booking fees remains illegal as it is not in the regulations; hence, punishable by law with a K10 million fine and five years’ imprisonment.
Reads the statement: “Section 64 (3) of the Tobacco Industry Act No. 10 of 2019 stipulates that a person shall not deduct any fee or any other sum from a farmer other than the maximum transport note published by the commission and payable to the licensed transporter. In view of this, the commission condemns the malpractice and warns all perpetrators of the vice to stop with immediate effect or face the law.”
This comes as tobacco growers have also been registering concern over such extra charges which they say eat into their prospective earnings.
In random interviews recently, growers said transporters charge about K2 000 to K3 000 in booking fees per tobacco bale when transporting to the market.
Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) chief executive officer Felix Thole confirmed that the malpractice is happening, saying the association and TC are against it.
He said: “We have been against that but this time around with the amended law it is very strict and if a transporter is found in the act, he will have to face very stiff punishment.
“We just pray that if the culprits are caught, let the TC implement the law, some of these transporters demand booking fee which is not even there at AHL Group, it’s a matter of cheating farmers to get rich at the expense of a farmer.”
Thole also said Tama has been advising farmers to guard against any illegal charges such as the booking fees and that growers have been sensitised to report to authorities to deal with such unscrupulous transporters.
AHL Group public relations manager Teresa Ndanga confirmed that they have been receiving complaints from growers about the booking fees which are non-existent in the marketing value chain.
She said: “We have been receiving complaints from farmers about booking fee charges that transporters impose on growers which is illegal. Booking of tobacco to be sold at the AHL market is free of charge, but some transporters take advantage of growers’ ignorance to dupe them.
“In response to such concerns, we, among other things, introduced receiving centres in remote areas to bring our services such as receiving tobacco closer to growers to cut transportation costs and do away with such unfounded extra and illegal charges to protect growers.”
The new law, according to TC, is geared to protect growers and it is expected to be fully implemented during the next growing season.
Meanwhile, the commission is sensitising stakeholders in the industry to be aware of the provisions.