IT IS A DUBIOUS FERTLILSER CONTRACT
BY THE MAST NEWSPAPER
DAVIS Chama says the fertiliser contract government awarded where suppliers delivered low quality commodity is dubious.
He says it’s quite frightening adding that, “it shows that the people that were elected on the 12th of August are not as they portray that they are. They’re not as holy as they were trying to portray”.
Recently, government sources revealed that part of the supplied fertiliser was also underweight.
This was after being subjected to tests by the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI).
And the most affected was that earmarked for Southern Province.
“These fertilisers were meant for various parts of the country, but the most affected was that going to Southern Province. In fact, even the quantities were discovered to be underweight. So, the government has asked these suppliers to replace the fertilisers,” the sources told The Mast. “This thing should have been announced some time in December because that is when these things were discovered after rigorous tests as per the government norm. The tradition is that whenever government receives fertilisers from suppliers they are tested by experts at ZARI; and that is what happened even in this scenario. The only problem is that the government has kept quiet instead of informing Zambians. If you want, you can call the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and inquire about this. Tests were done and these were the findings. But of course, not on all the supplies. It’s just that most of those affected were destined for Southern Province.”
When contacted, agriculture minister Reuben Mtolo Phiri confirmed the account and said the government had since informed the suppliers and asked them to replace the commodity.
“No one has refused. How can they refuse because we did the test, isn’t it? So, all we’re doing is we sample here and there and when we find that the fertiliser is not good enough, we ask them to replace it. Yea, we have gotten those reports and our men are on it. Yes, we’ve gotten those reports. I can confirm and our men are on it,” said Mtolo. “…Yes, but you know what, let me say something to you. Some of these stories might look very sensational but the effects they have on the economy can be very, very devastating. So, be very careful the way you write this story. We are on top of things. Every corner where we are receiving a problem, we are making sure that the fertiliser is being replaced. Depending on how you write it, it can become a very difficult situation. Even farmers who have received good fertiliser will start saying we have bad fertiliser. This is where responsibility and patriotism could come in. Whoever is giving you this information, be very, very careful because we could end up into a lot of complicated situations. This is what I have to say to you, The Mast. It’s a very sensational story for you. But depending on what you write you could create a very, very unnecessary problem. You’re calling me for the second time, it means you are very pleased with what you’re doing. And I can just caution you that be very careful. Be extremely careful. The reason I’m saying that, is this; you could be given this information by a group of people who think they themselves could not get involved. Now, we are busy checking the stock, alright! We’re busy checking the stock to make sure everywhere we have got good quality fertiliser being given to our people.”
Commenting on the matter, Chama wondered why the Ministry of Agriculture could accept substandard fertiliser and only realise later.
“So, what is puzzling is, how did the ministry accept the fertiliser and start distributing the fertiliser; only to discover when the fertiliser is already in the field that it’s substandard fertiliser? Those are critical questions that the ministry has to answer; and even supplying underweight!” he said. “So, it’s a dubious contract. And that’s why the minister maybe is finding it difficult because I doubt if he participated in the awarding of that contract. If you follow what the minister said in parliament, the minister actually said ‘you can even take me to court, there’s no such a thing’. He said categorically in parliament [that] there’s no such a thing under my ministry, you can even take me to court if I’m lying. He was even using unparliamentary language ‘even if I’m lying’ and the Speaker allowed him to use that unparliamentary language because she could not curtail what he was using on the floor there.”
Chama said it was possible that the minister was not personally involved in the contract, hence his reaction.
He said these were the same accusations the UPND, while in opposition, was lamping on PF when the latter was in power.
“So, the fact that he was even cautioning you it means that it’s being done somewhere above him. That contract has been awarded with a lot of questionable circumstances,” Chama said. “The same thing with what they were alleging that we were doing a lot of underhand contracts which were marred by a lot of corruption. Them it’s even worse because it’s too early. Under 200 days in government these things have started manifesting themselves.”
Chama wondered what would happen after five years if such anomalies could surface so early.
“They have just started their cycle of the budget and they’re now 10 days into their budget cycle, and issues of suspicious supplying and awarding of contracts have started surfacing. So, you start wondering if you project it in the next five years,” he said. “And they don’t even have fear. You expect that people who were condemning PF and who were portraying themselves that they were very upright, they’re very straightforward, they’ll not tolerate any form of corruption or underhand awarding of contracts. They have started doing… it’s quite frightening. It shows that the people that were elected on the 12th of August are not as they portray that they are, they’re not as holy as they were trying to portray.”
Chama accused the UPND of having deceived voters a lot during campaigns.
“When they formed government under very suspicious circumstances in terms of defeat, they were not very honest. Anyway, they were not even honest at all. There was a lot of deception even in their campaign messages and what they promised the Zambian people,” he added. “And we are not surprised that many more corrupt contracts will surface. And I’m happy that the Zambian people are very alert to make sure that they (UPND) are put on spot to scrutinise and make sure that whatever they’re doing is transparent. And anything to do with government using public money cannot be done in secret as the minister was trying to request. The truth must come out in the open so that the Zambian people know what is happening.”
Chama demanded transparency from the government, saying they were using tax payer’s money.
“So, we want total transparency because that’s what they preached – that when they form government they will be very transparent and they will be open in terms of the way they do government transactions. But under 200 days it is showing that they are not as transparent as they portrayed during the campaigns,” he said. “And they have been calling the PF that there was a lot of corruption that was taking place, now for them it will even be worse. And they will be answerable because there will come a time when they will leave office and they will also be scrutinised in the same manner they are dubiously or maliciously doing it on us. For us maybe they are even being vindictive and a lot of accusations that are flying around.”
And Chama asked the UPND to explain if President Hakainde Hichilema was involved in the fertiliser deal.
He said since the UPND was always accusing former president Edgar Lungu of being behind every suspicious deal, the public would also suspect President Hichilema to have a hand in it.
“Remember, president Lungu was always put into question that any contract president Lungu had a hand; he was stealing. Are they now telling us that that contract President Hakainde Hichilema had a hand in it?” he asked. “Those are the questions they need to start answering because anything that was happening, they were accusing State House. So, even this one it is very very suspicious. And we can only suspect that people who were accusing us probably also have a hand into these dubious contracts which are being awarded to friends and people who supported them.”
Meanwhile, Chama explained briefly on the tender processing in government.
“What is puzzling is that they want to burry everything to protect their integrity, the way the minister was coming out. And for your information, any tender for supply from the little knowledge that I have is that suppliers usually submit samples of the items which they intend to supply. And you don’t divert from those samples because those samples are needed by the customer; the one who wants to procure – whether it’s fertiliser or whatever you want to buy,” explained Chama. “It is a requirement that you supply the samples and these samples are tested before the contract is awarded. That yes, they meet the specifications of what you want. And then upon satisfying yourself that it’s the chemical composition of what you are interested in, then you award the contract. Even when they supply again you do a test on the samples that have been supplied. Then when you are satisfied that’s when you accept to say ‘okay, these items have been supplied’, and you acknowledge receipt of those items.”