The Mast editorial comment; Wednesday January 12, 2022
Fertiliser supply vs right quality, price and time principle
Government sources have revealed that upon being subjected to tests by the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), part of the fertiliser consignment supplied to government was found to be of low quality.
“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,” he said. “…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.”
The issue of fertiliser has been raging for months now. At one point the Ministry of Agriculture delayed the distribution of this very vital farming input pending an audit. But it seems the rot is very deep and it touches some who are considered sacred to the powers that be. Otherwise, how else can one explain the veil of secrecy or an attempt to protect wrongdoers? What happened to the mantra of investigating and punishing past, present and future crimes – corruption? What happened to the new dawn’s pledge to procure at the right price, right quality and right time? This issue that Reuben has kept silently – under wraps – at his Ministry does it amount to right price, right quality and right time? What is more damaging to the economy between protecting wrongdoing or exposing it – punishing it? What’s patriotic in keeping bad procurement under wraps? Isn’t this what the UPND used to chide the Patriotic Front for? Why has it suddenly become fashionable to lift from the PF handbook – a manual of lies, misconduct? Who are they protecting – farmers or fertiliser suppliers? What are the effects of low quality fertilisers on crop yields?
What’s the connection between the supplier of the low quality and underweight fertilisers and the UPND administration? Have we now started to regard some people as sacred cows? Have we started applying the principle of selective amnesia on fraudulent activities? Is the new dawn really up to the task of fighting corruption or they have somehow been caught up in the vicious web of the vice? The truth is that there’s a wrong in the supply of fertilisers – be it quality or pricing. And it takes one with political will and virtue to strike while the iron is hot.
As John Adams noted, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever maybe our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”.
And Louis Brandeis timely warned that, “Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”
More importantly, as Learned Hand advised, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”
Is the new dawn government going to ration justice or fight past, present and future crimes squarely?