CDEDI calls for depoliticisation of Affordable Input Programme

The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) has challenged the government to consider weaning and depoliticising the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) from political influence and interference.

CDEDI executive director Sylvester Namiwa said his organization has observed that politicians have not been sincere about the cost and impact of the programme on the national economy.

Namiwa made these sentiments in a statement he issued on Friday, a day after meeting the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Lobin Lowe, who was clarifying the contradicting statements on the number of beneficiaries for the programme in 2021/22 agricultural year.

Ministers of Agriculture Lobin Lowe. Pic (C) Daniel Namwini-Mana

The meeting followed a letter CDEDI wrote to the minister, dated August 25, 2021, asking him to explain, with seven days, why there were alleged inconsistencies in the policy direction on AIP between himself as the Minister of Agriculture and President Chakwera.

“CDEDI is challenging President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera to be sincere in his public pronouncements regarding implementation of safety-net programmes targeting marginalised and vulnerable Malawians. CDEDI has arrived at this direction after its meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Lobin Lowe at the ministry’s headquarters in Lilongwe on Thursday, September 2, 2021,” he said.

Namiwa said during the meeting, which lasted one-and-a-half hours, the minister disclosed that the scaling down of beneficiaries was necessitated by the resource envelope for the programme in the 2021/2022 growing season, and that it was a routine exercise, which the ministry conducts prior to the growing season.

Lowe further stated that the programme faces challenges, which include what he termed as ‘a cartel’ by those involved in the fertiliser industry in Malawi.

He also said the list of beneficiaries had to be reworked after it was noted that it included people whom he described as ‘undeserving beneficiaries’ such as some officials from his own ministry and other civil servants, whom he said had now been removed from the database.

Lowe is reported to have lamented that given the allocated resources, it was not possible to maintain the initial beneficiaries’ list unless Cabinet pushes Treasury to either make available additional resources, or approve the increase of the contributions made by the beneficiaries from the current K4, 495 per 50 kilogramme bag of fertiliser to any reasonable amount or look for cheaper fertiliser elsewhere.

Namiwa said based on the above issues that transpired during the meeting with the minister, CDEDI’s stand remains that President Chakwera’s decision to override the Ministry of Agriculture on the matter, as per his directive contained in the recent address to the nation, is an attempt to be seen to be politically-correct.

“Otherwise, the move by the ministry was a response to the prevailing situation on the ground. It is everyone’s guess as to the uncertainty that faces this year’s AIP; more so given that options available to meet the President’s political wish are a tall order. Therefore, CDEDI is advising the President to accept the harsh reality on the ground and act above politics,” he said.

Namiwa argued that AIP had become a huge mountain to climb for the Tonse Alliance administration ‘as it has proved to be a very costly and unsustainable exercise’.

“Otherwise, CDEDI is of the view that it is time the country started saving money from the AIP initiative, by slowly scaling down the number of beneficiaries, and invest such savings in local production of fertiliser as a meaningful way of cutting down both on government expenditure, as well as on the sky-rocketing prices of fertiliser. Above all, it is time our leader stopped making populist political pronouncements, which are mostly too costly on the public purse,” he said.

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