AIP mess irks Ombudsman

…President, Agriculture Minister lied about supplies

…13% Urea, 65% NPK fertiliser available for AIP

…system failure, beneficiaries left in the cold

Malawians will continue to face serious food shortages, thanks to the sheer incompetence and chaotic administration of President Lazarus Chakwera and his Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale who have failed to procure and distribute fertilisers to local farmers in time.

By this morning, only 13 % of Urea fertiliser was available under the AIP programme and the NPK availability was said to be around 65% to 70 % with most of the farming areas already past their fertiliser application season.

The Investigator Magazine’s compilation shows that markets are sparse, there is no fertiliser and suppliers are holding the commodity for nonpayment of the 2022/2023 programme, while companies that were secretly shortlisted by the Ministry have largely failed to supply.

Others claim a shipload of Urea arrived damaged, while some farmers have reported buying damaged fertilisers in some of the areas.

The Investigator Magazine has sourced an angry pointer of the mess as investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman in a letter dated 20th December 2023 to the Secretary for Agriculture and the Smallholder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund (SFFRFM)

The Ombudsman Grace Malera is demanding immediate intervention, while the Ministry officials could not be reached as they are closed for Christmas. The President too is on holiday at Chikoko Bay in Mangochi, making it unlikely that any immediate intervention can come from Malawi’s ruling class.

President Chakwera and his Minister Kawale lied to the nation on AIP

The Ombudsman travelled to almost 25 districts to compile the mess, and the Minister and his team could not address it, months after the AIP was launched with pomp and fanfare, proclaiming that within 40 days, all entitled farmers would collect their inputs. Like many of the President’s proclamations and promises- this t0o was an empty podium rhetoric.

No Urea fertiliser is available, govt can’t pay suppliers

The President and his Minister told Malawian lies that the country will have enough stocks of fertiliser and The Ombudsman is demanding answers as to why there is no fertiliser is not readily available.

not available on the market

“The Office of the Ombudsman has also established that there is a considerable slow restock of inputs especially UREA Fertilizer across all the districts visited. This is worrisome and a cause for concern considering that in some parts of the country the rains commenced and farmers are migrating into the middle phases of the crop-growing period. Farm inputs especially fertilizers must be timely made available to these farmers to ensure the timely application of such inputs. What steps is the Ministry putting in place to address this challenge?” The Ombudsman writes confirming what The Investigator Magazine has established that Urea is not available.

The Office of the Ombudsman confirms The Investigator Magazine’s findings that the key the reason for lack of inputs in the selling markets is to failure or delay by the Government to pay suppliers leading to delays in the disbursement/release of fertilizer by the suppliers.

National IDs cashed within the agriculture system

Irate farmers have reported to The Ombudsman that their National Identity cards, which are used for collection of the AIP allocations had already been used by unknown people despite that they had not been to any shop.

The shocking theft points to an insider job where most rural Malawian’s names and IDs are cashed by a cartel within the Ministry of Agriculture and selling point who claims or sell on behalf of farmers if they delay appearing at the selling point.

“It has been established that a significant number of beneficiaries have not been able to redeem their allocated inputs because the system shows that they have already redeemed such inputs, yet such beneficiaries have not been to any selling point,” writes Malera.

The Ombudsman adds,” For instance, at Mamina Selling Point in Ntchisi (about 70 queries were recorded), at Chatoloma (about 20 queries were recorded) and at Mnkhota Selling Points in Kasungu (about 5 queries were recorded). Beneficiaries faced with this challenge were directed to their respective Agricultural Extension Development Coordinators for further action, however, there hasn’t been any tangible solution offered to the affected beneficiaries to address and correct the anomaly.”

The public protector asked the Ministry and SFFRM whether they had received the reports of the cashed national identities which it says are not unique to the mentioned districts but in most districts in Malawi and what the immediate remedial measures that are being put in place to address the situation.

The Ombudsman further questioned the Ministry if it was aware that the SFFRM decided to reject temporary national ID (normally registration forms) denying thousands of others an opportunity to access the essential commodity.

Tempolary IDs were rejected by the Ministry to access the fertiliser in other parts of the country

This was reported in Ntchisi, Salima, Dedza, Mchinji, Dowa, and Blantyre Districts, yet others according to the letter initially some beneficiaries were assisted using temporary IDs, however, this was creating shortages on the part of the Sales Clerks because the system is failing to centrally synchronise the number of bags sold at a selling point.

“This is unfair to the concerned beneficiaries and requires immediate intervention to ensure that such beneficiaries duly access their inputs,” says The Ombudsman.

The Ministry insiders said nothing had been done on many issues as simply there was no fertiliser to be resupplied.

Useless toll-free number, poor ICT

The AIP experience for the farmers includes the now well-known fact that Malawi does not have customer services and the Ministry’s toll-free line, just like almost all public utility lines, banks, and mobile companies- has cosmetic customer services that nobody offers.

The Ombudsman investigation experienced AIP toll line explaining to the Ministry, “at Mkanda Selling point in Mchinji beneficiaries raised concerns that the Toll-free line introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture never gets picked up by the operators when users place calls.”

Office of the Ombudsman has asked the Ministry to ensure the existence of a functional and working complaints redress mechanism through which beneficiaries’ concerns may be addressed.

In terms of network connectivity, another area of corruption breeding in banks, the Immigration Department, and the Road Traffic Service, The Ombudsman got the same dosage Malawians have experienced. The no-network story.

The Ombudsman calls it unreliable; we prefer to call it a cosmetic network for public services.

Linthipe 1 in Dedza, Chatoloma and Mtunthama in Kasungu, and Chipoka and Chinguluwe in Salima as well as Mkanda in Mchinji District are some of the area networks seemed to have been on holiday and the sellers complained that the system, probably installed by someone who paid tithe to some political figures does jumping sessions rendering the process useless.

“The system could indicate an error whilst the redemption process in the system records a successful redemption. The Office of the Ombudsman would like to know the steps that SFRFFM and the Ministry of Agriculture are taking to address the problem of network connectivity,” asked The Ombudsman.

The technology issue includes the lack of phones at some centres like Makoko in Ntaja have no constituency phones.

Distance and New constituencies

The Investigator Magazine and The Ombudsman findings all indicate that the new constituency boundaries and limited selling points for AIP have denied deserving Malawians an opportunity to access inputs.

The Investigator Magazine found that Nthalire in Chitipa had one selling point and people had to travel 70km to access the AIP which was breeding corruption as Clerks were demanding money from the poor farmers.

people travelling over 70km to access AIP fertilisers

The Ombudsman discovered that farmers’ names would appear in new constituencies and miss in their home areas, which in turn has made them fail to access the AIP.

The highly political AIP seems to be in a total mess and many Malawians are asking for the abolishment of the programme as only suppliers, politicians, and transporters seem to benefit from the programme with most farmers struggling to access the commodity.

The Ombudsman gives 14 days to Agriculture

Malera’s office received hundreds of complaints about the AIP and is pursuing the investigations, giving the Ministry of Agriculture 14 days, from December 20 to respond to her questions under section 123 of the Constitution and section 5 of the Ombudsman Act, (Chapter 3:07 of the Laws of Malawi), to investigate any cases of alleged injustice, abuse of power, unfair treatment and unjust discharge of duty by any public office or officer.

Ombudsman Malera patiently waiting for Min.of Agriculture to respond to her questions

The districts covered thus far are Chiradzulu,Blantyre, Mwanza, Neno, Phalombe, Mulanje, Nsanje, Chikwawa and Thyolo in the Southern Region; Mangochi, Machinga, Zomba and Balaka in the Eastern Region; Karonga, Chitipa, Nkhatabay, Rumphi, and Mzimba South in the Northern Region; Kasungu, Ntchisi, Dowa, Ntcheu, Salima, Dedza, Ntchisi and Mchinji in Central Region.

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