HARARE – Despite official claims that the 2016/17 farming season achieved a bumper harvest owing to the Command Agriculture initiative, government is clandestinely importing the staple grain from neighbouring countries.
Ironically, the grain imports violate a ban imposed by the same government in June this year.
This came to light in a case before the Harare High Court in which police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri has been ordered to release 22 trucks that were confiscated at Chirundu Border Post on their way from Zambia in July, carrying maize worth $1,5 million.
In the case before the High Court, Holbud Limited and Sporrow Hauliers (Private) Limited, which trades as J & J Transport, accused the police of illegally confiscating their trucks which were carrying grain purchased by their client — the government.
In the application, the two companies cited Chihuri and senior assistant commissioner Rangarirai Mushaurwa, who is charge of Mashonaland West province, in their official capacities as first and second respondent respectively.
The police did not respond to the application.
This resulted in the matter being set down on the unopposed roll on Wednesday, culminating in a ruling in favour of the release of the trucks and the grain by High Court judge David Mangota.
Roopak Bhadra, who is Holbud’s general manager, told the court in an affidavit that his company entered into a maize import agreement with the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).
“The arrangement is that the maize is paid for before it is imported into the country. I was surprised on the 26th of July 2017, when I received information that the police had impounded the maize with the trucks. I immediately dispatched my officers to go and check why the maize had been impounded at Chirundu.
“I later received a report to the effect that the maize was being impounded because of a statement made by the minister of Agriculture, honourable Joseph Made,” Bhadra said.
He said he later called Mushaurwa who advised him that he had received instruction from the Police General Headquarters to the effect that the maize must be impounded.
Mushaurwa told him to avail all the documentation relating to the importation of the maize, which was produced on July 27.
“On the 28th of July 2017, I made a further follow-up and I was assured that the following day, being the 29th of July, the trucks would be released. However, the day passed without the trucks being released and on the 30th of July 2017, I reported the matter to Grain Marketing Board who is the owner of the maize, in particular to the general manager Mr (Lawrence) Jasi. He undertook to investigate the basis why the maize had been impounded and again, I was assured that the maize was going to be released,” he said.
His lawyer Jonathan Samukange from Venturas and Samukange also made a follow-up with Mushaurwa and was assured that the trucks would be released by August 3.
Bhadra said his company had to approach the court, because it had an agreement with the GMB and had an obligation to deliver the maize to the national granary’s silos in terms of the contract.
“The balance of convenience favours the applicants as they will suffer financial prejudice if the maize continues to be held unlawfully by the respondents. Maize is a perishable commodity and the longer it is exposed to the cruel weather, the moisture content will be affected.
“The moisture content before the maize is taken to the Grain Marketing Board silos is tested and it must comply with the moisture content agreed in terms of the agreement. What the respondents are doing may actually end up causing a dispute between the Grain Marketing Board and the first applicant and that would cause financial prejudice and may actually end up involving the police as a result of their actions,” the court heard.
Bhadra said the maize was already being eaten by baboons and monkeys, adding that they were being charged demurrage charges, which had already translated into tens of thousands of United States dollars.
“The respondents will suffer no prejudice whatsoever if the maize is released because, as indicated above, the maize belongs to the Government of Zimbabwe.
“I submit that the conduct of the respondents defies all logic and this explains why we did not immediately rush to court because we thought that the respondents would release the maize the moment they realised that the maize belongs to the Government of Zimbabwe and all the documentation pertaining to the importation of the maize had been made available to the respondents,” he said.
The country banned the importation of grain after government claimed it had enough maize to feed the nation, following a devastating drought that left more than four million in need of food aid last year.
Government had spent close to $200 million in 2016 on maize import substitution programmes.
Currently, State granary — the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) — is purchasing locally produced grain at $390 per tonne, more than double the price in regional markets. – Source