Agric secretary, Parliament fallout over GMB mess

Agric secretary, Parliament fallout over GMB mess

By Chipo Musoko, HARARE, February 25 (The Source) – Parliament on Tuesday quizzed the agriculture permanent secretary, Ringson Chitsiko over allegations of hefty salaries of Grain Marketing Board (GMB) management while workers have gone without salaries for six months.

Responding to a question by Member of Parliament (MP) for Makoni West, Kudzanai Chipanga on how the ministry was addressing the plight of the unpaid workers and alleged hefty salaries of top management, Chitsiko declined to comment.

“I don’t know exactly what everybody in top management of GMB is earning. I am not be able to answer that,” he said adding that he was also not aware that workers had gone for so long without being paid.

This infuriated members of the lands and agriculture parliamentary  portfolio committee.

“I have not asked you to disclose the salaries for the top management but am concerned about the salaries of ordinary workers,” said Chipanga.

In response Chitsiko attributed the non-payment of salaries to lack of funding.

“Repeatedly, as a ministry we wrote to the Ministry of Finance for resources towards GMB and the answer always has been that there is no money,” he said.

MP for Lobengula Sipepa Nkomo labelled the permanent secretary a politician for evading questions.
“If the permanent secretary doesn’t know, who does because you are the supervisor of GMB?” asked Nkomo.

He said the board was a profitable entity which received money from government  annually to buy maize which it then sold and kept the proceeds.

The MP for Makoni South, Mandi Chimene said the permanent secretary’s response was shocking.

“Are you really the permanent secretary? It’s very pathetic. GMB is your largest parastatal that feeds the nation and you do not seem to have oversight on this parastatal,” she said.

Chitsiko said he had recently been transferred to the ministry and pledged to supply the required information ‘soon.’

MPs also complained about the dilapidated state of the parastatal’s silos and urged the ministry to ensure that refurbishments were done before grain was delivered. The government, MPs noted, was spending money on maize imports, which would then rot in the silos. As a result, more imports would be bought with the same result, in a vicious circle.

Chitsiko also attributed the dilapidation to lack of funding.

“The state of the silos is a cause for concern not only for the committee but for us as the ministry of agriculture and GMB,” he said.

He said by June some refurbishments would be done. Negotiations with a Chinese firm, AVIC, to repair the silos was still being negotiated.

Chitsiko said government owed GMB $44 million as the board was converting revenue from  its commercial ventures to buy grain reserves, compromising its financial status.

The permanent secretary said government was anticipating a harvest of between 1.6 million metric tonnes to 1.8 million tonnes this season worth around $800 million but would only be able to buy 500 000 tonnes for grain reserves.