Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chilala explains FRA's K23bn GMO maize deal

Chilala explains FRA's K23bn GMO maize deal
By Chibaula Silwamba and Chiwoyu Sinyangwe
Thursday July 10, 2008 [04:00]

FOOD Reserve Agency (FRA) chairperson Costain Chilala yesterday revealed that former FRA acting executive director James Mazumba and a finance manager were fired for irregularly importing Genetically Modified (GMO) maize. But Mazumba said he executed his duties very well to avert possible political strife in the country due to the maize shortage in the run-up to the 2006 elections.

Reacting to revelations in the latest Auditor General's report for parastatal bodies for the 2006 financial year which indicated that FRA had wasted over K23.6 billion when it purchased GMO maize contrary to presidential directives, Chilala admitted that the agency indeed irregularly bought some maize which had GMO content.

However, he said the culprits were fired over the irregularity and that the maize was sent back to the country of origin.

"The fact is that FRA had a condition that no GMO maize should be bought. It was GMO free Lusaka and it was but for some reason between Mount Makulu and our officers, some GMO ended up entering the country and that maize ended up being paid for. And we fired the people who did that," Chilala said.

"We fired the acting executive director James Mazumba, the then finance manager because all this directive was very clear that the maize should have been received GMO free in Lusaka. I would not deny that the GMO was imported by intention or accidentally ended up in our warehouse. In fact it had to be escorted back using security forces back out of the country."

However, Chilala said the GMO maize that was imported was not more than 4000 metric tonnes hence the cost could not be K23.6 billion as claimed in the Auditor General's report.

He also said none of the GMO maize was consumed in Zambia.
"No maize was processed for feedstock, we knew there was GMO maize in our warehouses, someone between those two people, someone from management was trying to hide that maize into Mkushi.

We only knew about that ourselves after 300 metric tonnes was moved into Mkushi and that became a very serious offence. But since we knew that was a security issue, we did not want to talk about it because we did not want to alarm the nation. We rounded up all the maize and it was under lock and key," Chilala said.

"All of it was rounded up even the one which was taken to Mkushi was
re-exported back. I can tell you that none of that maize was sold to the millers in the country."

Asked whether FRA recovered the money spent on the GMO maize after it was sent back to its country of origin, Chilala said the government through that deal incurred a loss.

"My friend those are serious issues, it is difficult but I can find out whether it was recovered or how much that maize was sold for... on the freight, I can tell you that we made a bit of a loss," Chilala said. "It is not that we recovered all the money and that is the reason those people were fired because the condition and the importation rules were clear."

But Mazumba justified the Agency’s decision to import maize at the time, saying he acted deligently.

"At the time of importing this maize, my hand was in it and I was doing it for the wellbeing of the people of this country. I was very much aware that the shortage of maize can easily bring about political instability so I was aware of that and the need for me and my management to work diligently and above board," he said.

"At the time this maize was brought into the country, we had a drought in this country and we were going into an election year, and it was such a traumatising, pressurising time... it was an emergency and you will remember there was even a task force that was set at ministerial level because of the pressure and the emergency. Given this background that maize shortage can turn into a difficult situation, we had to look at every avenue to ensure that does not happen."

He said consequently a decision was made at ministerial level that the country import 200,000 metric tonnes of maize, out of which 50,000 metric tonnes were to be imported by the FRA.

"So, our concern was for the 50,000 metric tonnes and at that time, MPs were crying that people are dying or people are crying and that influenced us.

What FRA did was to move quickly to avert the situation and I want to say that we followed all tender procedures because as much as it was an emergency, we knew that it was important that procedures were followed," he explained. ", an open tender was there for anybody, the whole world could tender and that tender went through the Zambia National Tender Board."

He said Nyiombo, Louis Dreyfus and Profert were contracted to supply the maize.
"Apart from just following tender procedures, the contract also contained terms of supply, by terms of payment and this included the quality of the maize, weight, moisture, including non-GMO protection and all these were in the contract and obviously payments was by letter of credit.

So once the supplier is able to produce all these documents that are stipulated in the contract, then the bank would pay," Mazumba said. "So all these conditions except for the GMO, we had to get an independent tester because our supplier would not accept the test mark, we had to settle for an independent inspector to offer certificate of inspection for that GMO."

He said to show how stringent FRA was, Mt Makulu was brought in at all border entry points so that they could also act as a counter in case there were some maize that contained GMO.

"The Mt Makulu specimen sometimes was not very efficient so some of the maize was tested positive. From the same parcels some of the maize was testing positive while some was testing negative but then they took everything as positive," he said. "But there was debate that the positive maize was as a result of intermixing of the maize.

You remember that at the time the whole region needed maize; Zimbabwe was importing, Malawi was importing, Mozambique was importing and Zambia was importing from the same source, South Africa, and so there was that debate that the wagons that were being used were the same ones that the other countries in the region were using. So the issue of intermingling of GMO and non GMO maize is possible."

He also wondered why people concentrated on complaining about the 3,000 metric tonnes that had GMO content instead of looking at the 47,000 metric tonnes that did not contain GMO.

"We made sure that measures were put in place, we made sure that the maize was brought into the country and we fulfilled, there was food and the elections went ahead peacefully, actually I expected a bit of commendation but what I got was a termination of my contract," he said.

"There was another 150,000 metric tonnes brought into the country by other stakeholders but no one has talked about it and we don't even know if they tested to certify that they were non-GMO."

Mazumba also said he did not know how the GMO maize was disposed off
because his contract had been terminated.

On reports that the GMO maize was later hidden in Mkushi, Mazumba admitted that some maize had been taken to Mkushi as suppliers wanted to pick it from there by railway transport.

Asked whether his contract was terminated because of the GMO maize scandal, Mazumba said he did not know.

"I wouldn't know if my contract was terminated because of the GMO or not because my letter of termination did not say anything to that effect," said Mazumba.

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