Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) who commissioned the purchase of unnecessary equipment should be held accountable because they failed to do proper planning and supervision for the ministry’s mechanisation programme, a Member of Parliament (MP) has said.
MP Gabriel Semasaka, the chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, told The New Times in an interview on Wednesday that more investigations should be carried out to establish why officials at MINAGRI bought the equipment they didn’t need and went on to keep it up to now.
A report by the Auditor-General (AG) on government expenditures in the financial year 2013-2014 found out that five heavy caterpillars, 50 potato harvesters, and 250 power tiller trailers were unnecessarily bought by officials at MINAGRI and are lying idle in its stores.
Semasaka said findings of the report raise questions of whether there was proper planning before commissioning the purchase of the equipment and describes the move as wasteful spending whose authors should be held accountable.
“Those who played a role in purchasing the equipment should be held accountable. One also wonders why officials at MINAGRI did not find out that the equipment was not needed and sell it off until the Auditor-General found it idle. It shows that some people don’t care even if they are in charge,” he said.
Facing pressure after publication of the AG’s report, officials at MINAGRI announced last week that they had given themselves until December to have sold off all the heavy caterpillars, potato harvesters, and power tiller trailers that the AG found idle and their purchase, at Rwf1.8 billion, unnecessary.
The resale plan was revealed to The New Times by Innocent Nzeyimana, the head of land husbandry, irrigation, and mechanisation department at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) during an interview.
He said officials at the ministry will gradually assess which machines they need to keep and which ones should be sold off to private users.
“We will keep a minimum of machines for demonstration purposes mainly to teach agriculture cooperatives on how to use the technology. The management of such machines is very challenging for the government and it’s better for the private sector to take them over,” Nzeyimana said.
Selling off machinery
The official said MINAGRI will sell off all the five heavy caterpillars - including one excavator, two track loaders, one bulldozer, and one soil compactor – which the ministry had purchased following the government’s decision to support the transformation of agriculture, specifically in irrigation.
Procured in 2010 at Rwf1.6 billion, the five caterpillars were planned to be used within the Government Funded Irrigation project (GFI) to build dams and other related irrigation infrastructure in the hillside areas.
But audits by the AG in November 2014 revealed that the caterpillars were not compatible with the intended purpose for their purchase and are currently lying idle.
Asked why the ministry took the trouble to buy the heavy machinery, Nzeyimana said it was not easy to get heavy caterpillars for hire by the time the agriculture mechanisation project was launched in 2010.
He said all the caterpillars will be sold to private operators since there are now more private operators who can rent out heavy caterpillars in case Minagri needs them for its agriculture mechanisation programme.
Resale will also be made for 50 potato harvesters, worth Rwf44 million, which the AG didn’t find suitable for local terrain and are thus lying idle.
The AG said the fact that most Irish potatoes in Rwanda are grown in mountainous districts of Northern Province made mechanisation using potato harvesters a problem in such mountainous terrains.
“No feasibility study about the suitability of this type of equipment was carried out prior to acquisition,” the AG’s report reads in part.
As for power tiller trailers used for transporting farm produce, the AG said that MINAGRI had bought 250 of them at Rwf130.8 million in 2011 but 142 of them have never been used since they were delivered to the ministry and had been in stock for more than three years.
“The main metallic trailer bodies of these 142 trailers were left in the open where they are continuously exposed to direct sunlight and rainwater. Consequently, most trailer bodies have started to degrade through rusting,” the report reads.
So far, Nzeyimana has dismissed claims that the purchase of both potato harvesters and many power tiller trailers was not necessary, explaining that the equipment was needed in order to initiate farmers in how to use the equipment.
“I am assuring you that they have helped in the promotion of the mechanisation programme of the country’s agriculture sector,” he said.
Now that the trained farmers know about potato harvesters and power tiller trailers, the official added, the ministry is ready to sell them the machines and remain with a small number of the equipment for demonstration purposes.
Suggestions that the purchase of the equipment at MINAGRI was not necessary will be assessed by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) next month while examining the AG’s report for the financial year 2013-2014, The New Times has learnt.