MPs demand for accountability for rural agriculture project

Members of the Chamber of Deputies during a past plenary session. File.

Members of the Lower House yesterday urged the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Agriculture to bring to book people who are responsible for the failures in the implementation of a rural project, known as PRICE.

Launched in 2010 by the Government, the Rural Income through Export (PRICE) project was aimed to boost exports from rural farms by promoting the production and commercialisation of cash crops that include tea, coffee, geranium, avocadoes, and silkworms.

However, the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) assessment of the project’s performance revealed that a lot of money was wasted without achieving the intended targets.

Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, The chairperson of PAC, said that the project achieved only 60 per cent of its targets, hurting farmers’ fortunes despite government spending Rwf22.4 billion in the first half of the project’s implementation.

The MPs report revealed that some coffee and tea seedlings that were distributed under the project dried up or simply stunted without yielding any produce, while in some cases, figures for acres of land to be planted were inflated in order to get funding yet on the field nothing was happening.

Issues related to poor planning and follow-up on the project’s activities were also highlighted in the MPs’ assessment of the project, with some complete failures to achieve production goals such as on silkworms where only 0.1 per cent of production was achieved in comparison to production targets.

The MPs have asked the Government to provide accountability for the project’s failures which they say was a result of poor planning, lack of follow-up, and in some cases outright swindling of public funds.

“Whoever is responsible for this loss will be held accountable,” Ngabitsinze said, urging other legislators to support his committee’s resolution to ask the Government to follow up on the issue.

On coffee, the committee found out that nearly 600,000 trees were planted but only about 40 per cent of the trees are productive as the rest of the trees remain unproductive due to negligence.

On sericulture, 0.1 per cent of production was achieved in comparison to targets laid out. Challenges with sericulture included giving money to non-existing cooperatives whose founders knew nothing about silk farming.

Lack of production of silkworms made it impossible for HEWorks Rwanda Silk Ltd, a Korean-owned firm that processes silk fibre, to operate at full capacity.

In 2016, the firm signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB) to revitalise Rwanda’s silk sector.

Studies by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) indicated that Rwanda could be well suited for the production of silk.

On the production of avocadoes, targets were also not achieved, with one case in Huye District indicating that nearly 60 per cent of targeted avocado seedlings were not distributed.

On geranium, the cost of production was higher than the prices offered to farmers, which made the latter abandon the business.

Ngabitsinze said that the planning of activities for the project was mainly poor, which led to numerous failures at the implementation level.

“Money spent on this project is a lot and it was well documented. But the money didn’t do anything,” he said.

Many MPs supported PAC’s recommendation that the Prime Minister’s office move fast to hold those who mismanaged the project accountable.

“This money is a loan that all Rwandans will pay for many years,” said MP Jean-Damascène Murara, calling for those who misused the funds to be punished.

Funds used under PRICE were obtained from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), with 50 per cent of it being a loan to the Government while the rest of the funds were a grant.

MP Christine Muhongayire said that “it is good that a recommendation was made” by Parliament that “whoever mismanaged the  project should be held accountable”.

The project was first audited by the Auditor General (AG) in 2015 and received a clean audit report.

But members of PAC had in 2016 asked the AG to conduct a performance audit to ascertain whether the funds allocated to PRICE were indeed being used efficiently to achieve the project’s goals.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

 

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