PARLIAMENT was told yesterday how the government’s subsidised grain was allegedly being smuggled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by millers connected to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the Daily News reports.
The revelations came as the country is experiencing widespread shortages of the staple maize meal — which has put pressure on authorities to scour foreign markets for grain supplies — to avert a mega humanitarian crisis.
According to millers who appeared in Parliament yesterday, there was a scandal of huge proportions allegedly involving the smuggling of subsidised grain to the DRC, where it is apparently fetching thousands of United States dollars per tonne.
GMB sells the subsidised grain to millers in local currency.
Appearing before the Lands, Agriculture, Water and Climate portfolio committee that is led by Justice Mayor Wadyajena, Wayne Morse — the director of Mr Brands Milling — claimed that the smuggling was being aided by the fact that some millers were allegedly being corruptly given allocations of grain above their milling capacity.
“If a company’s milling capacity is say 200 tonnes a week, how do you explain it when it is allocated 600 tonnes?
“What happens is that the other 400 tonnes is what is then sold to other countries at a profit, because the grain is cheap this side.
“Even when the process began to be supervised by the ministry of Finance, you will notice the list of beneficiaries has not changed from the one that the GMB used,” Morse said.
He also claimed that trucks that were transporting copper to South Africa were part of the grain smuggling racket.
He further claimed that on their way from South Africa, after delivering the copper, the empty trucks would allegedly be recorded at the Beitbridge Border Post as loaded with imported grain, yet they would be empty.
“They are then loaded with maize here and proceed to DRC. We know what is happening and also that some of the grain is bought back by the bigger millers here,” Morse said.
On his part, National Foods group chief executive officer Mike Lashbrook confirmed to the committee that they would at times buy grain from local suppliers when the company ran out of the product.
“Sometimes we get less than what we want. We are forced to go on the market to buy grain from local suppliers to complement what we get from GMB,” he said, prompting the committee to order the company to furnish it with the list of the local suppliers by end of day yesterday.
Parliament also heard from small-scale grain millers that they were being sidelined from accessing the subsidised grain by the GMB, which was apparently demanding that they should come through Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe, even when they were not members of the association.
One such small-scale miller, Davis Muhambi — the director of United Milling Company — claimed that big millers were enjoying preferential treatment from Gmaz chairperson Tafadzwa Musarara, allegedly because they funded the association and did business with his company Alpha Grain.
“When you seek to get information from these bigger companies, you are essentially talking to Gmaz itself. They are Gmaz in fact,” he said.
While small-scale millers were crying foul over Gmaz’s conduct, their bigger counterparts said they were happy with its operations — as it gives them an opportunity to “speak with one voice” and to access foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Asked by Zanu PF MP for Mberengwa North, Tafanana Zhou, if Musarara was life president of Gmaz, the millers said they were not aware of the constitutional provisions guiding the leadership of the association.
On its part, Gmaz said yesterday that it would not comment on the matters raised in Parliament, as it was scheduled to attend a hearing before the same committee next week.
Meanwhile, Wadyajena revealed that his committee had also invited Finance minister Mthuli Ncube to give oral evidence on the maize meal shortages today.
He also said the committee had summoned Musarara to appear before it next week, to also give evidence on how the grain was distributed to the millers by Gmaz.