Scandal brews over faulty farm tools
A scandal is looming large at the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Recourses in relation to the purchase of 30,000 pieces of light machinery worth more than 30 million birr, The Reporter has learnt.
The Reporter’s investigation following tipoffs revealed that the ministry originally sought to procure the hand-held farm implements with a view to facilitate the process of sowing seeds.
Nonetheless, these pieces of light farm tools, purchased and deployed without the consent of regional governments, have proved to be anything but unusable.
Dubbed “double-tube planter for fertilizers and seeds”, the farm implements were designed locally and later manufactured in China.
One of the major tasks these pieces of light machinery were supposed to aid was in the plantation of teff. However, the tools were mass-produced without first going through field trials.
Upon importation of these defective implements, Oromia, the Southern and Amhara Regional States were told to acquire and pay for them.
The Oromia Regional State officially wrote a letter of complaint to the ministry, describing in detail defects with the farm tools as grounds for refusal to effect payment for them. Zelalem Jemaneh, then head of the Oromia Bureau of Agriculture, is now under custody for other alleged corrupt practices. He wrote three years ago to the ministry (then the Ministry of Agriculture) detailing outcomes of field tests done on the machines.
According to Zelalem, zonal and woreda-level experts were summoned by experts of the ministry to demonstrate the operation of the machines. The demonstrations held at the town of Holeta revealed that those machines were of no use and could not be operated at all. Similar demonstrations at farmers’ training centers and elsewhere came up with similar outcomes: the machines did not work.
“The 10,000 pieces of double-tube planter for fertilizer and seed machines which have been sent to us on July 18, 2014 have been stockpiled at our warehouse in Bishoftu. Agricultural experts of the ministry as well as ours had tested the machines at Holeta and found that the machines did not work. Demonstrations held at farmers’ training centers and on field trials furnished further evidence of their non-functionality”, the former bureau head wrote to the ministry.
He also wrote that the light machinery have been bought and brought in without the consent and request of farmers let alone the regional government. The procurement, he argued, violates legal procedures. Hence, the ministry, without proper consultations and agreements, had dumped the machines on their warehouses, he contended.
Aliye Hussein, the current deputy head of the Oromia Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources, wrote to the ministry recently, requesting to dispose of the piled machines at its warehouse in Bishoftu. Responding to inquiries by The Reporter, Terefe Dissasa, core business team leader with a rank of deputy head at the bureau who blocked the payment request by the ministry responded that the ministry still remains silent after several requests for disposing of the machines before they cause any harm to employees.
The Reporter has repeatedly requested the ministry for comments. Many of the departments which have been requested for comments referred back the issue to the communications head Alemayehu Berhanu who in turn cyclically postponed schedules for interview and at some point, told The Reporter that he supports exposure of corrupt practices at the ministry.
However, neither he nor any responsible party would be available for face-to-face interviews. “I haven’t had any information on what you referred to about corruption. If it has happened, you do what you have to do and I support that,” Alemayehu wrote in an SMS message.
Wondyirad Mandefro, who as a state minister authorized the procurement and distribution of the farm implements, allegedly left to the US. Sources told The Reporter that he left because he felt he had come under the watchful eyes of the authorities.