The saga surrounding the US$9 million loan that the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) claims it extended to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) to refurbish some of its silos resumed today with the association frog-marched to testify.
Parliament resorted to summoning police to force the association members to appear before the committee on Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.
GMAZ wanted committee chairperson Justice Mayor Wadyajena to recuse himself on grounds he was allegedly biased against the association.
The association wanted to instead be allowed to appear before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Accounts.
GMAZ chairperson Tafadzwa Musarara was at pains to prove that his organisation indeed extended the loan, and resorted to what was seen as name-dropping to wriggle out.
He failed to produce evidence of GMAZ’s loan claims, which were shot down by GMB officials also in the same chamber testifying.
In what was seen as name-dropping, Musarara told the committee that he entered into a verbal agreement with President Emmerson Mnangagwa (then Vice President) in 2017 for the millers to renovate the country’s silos at a cost of US$9 million.
He claimed that GMB repaid the ‘loan’ using discounted grain which was distributed to GMAZ members.
“Sometime in 2017, the then chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Food Security and Vice President then, now President, approached the milling industry and said that the Command Agriculture at that particular time was very successful, a big harvest was being expected but the silo situation was not good. He advised that Treasury did not have money at that particular time.
“We were later approached by the then Minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa who advised us that Government was desirous to seek a loan from millers for the funding of the repairs of the silos. We gladly took on this offer as millers and we provided a funding arrangement through a term sheet. We signed an agreement with the Minister of Finance.”
“We agreed that we were not going to charge interest but we were going to get maize at US$240 which was at a discounted price in lieu of the financial charges,” he said.
Musarara however could not furnish the committee with documentation to support his claims.
In response, GMB operations director Clemence Guta denied receiving the loan from GMAZ purportedly meant for refurbishing silos.
“GMB never entered into any loan agreement with GMAZ for silo rehabilitation or any project for that matter,” he said, adding the parastatal got funding from the central bank and other local banks.
Guta said the GMB sold the millers grain at a discounted price of US$240 instead of the gazetted US$270 per ton.
“Money that was deposited by GMAZ was for grain purchases,” he said.
Other millers present denied knowledge of the discounted maize facility.
United Milling Company director Davis Muhambi said they were not considered for the silo repair for maize scheme.
“We were not asked or considered for the facility,” he said.
Committee members were not amused by Musarara’s conduct with Highfield East MP Eric Murai saying Musarara deserved to be in remand prison for allegedly fleecing a government parastatal through buying grain at discounted prices.
The Committee said it would be inviting Musarara again later to interrogate the issue further as well as to explain what his organisation did with funds that it received from the government to import wheat.-New Ziana