Fourteen trucks assigned to deliver 410 metric tonnes of maize worth K123 million from Admarc depots to National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) in Lilongwe did not reach their destination.
Police, after recording statements from NFRA officials last Thursday, the following day they summoned Smolet Kachere who was engaged to transport the maize meant for Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs).
National Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya confirmed on Friday police summoned a man he declined to identify for fear of jeopardising their investigations.
“We are continuing with our investigations. The trucks suspected to have diverted the maize are 14,” he said, adding that the man they interrogated was released the same day.
Kalaya said NFRA officials reported the missing trucks to Area 30 Police Headquarters last Thursday, October 20.
Delivery of the maize, according to our sources at NFRA, was supposed to begin early September, but by September 10 2022 management was made aware of the missing 14 trucks.
However, more than a month later, NFRA management did not report the matter to police. And when asked if police questioned NFRA about the late reporting, Kalaya said the agency was better-placed to comment.
NFRA chief executive officer Brenda Kayongo declined to respond to a questionnaire sent to her Thursday, arguing doing so would jeopardise police investigations.
In the questionnaire, we wanted NFRA to explain why it took them long to report to police and to comment on claims that NFRA officials allegedly participated in diverting the trucks for personal gains.
Our sources disclosed that the transporter, who runs Kachere Agriculture Trading, was summoned to police after he went to NFRA Kanengo premises to chase his payment for transportation services.
“NFRA officers reported to police when the transporter showed up here. Police rushed there and took him to the police to record statements. He was picked around 11 am,” one of our sources said.
Kachere, when asked on Friday through WhatsApp for comment at 10:36 am, responded at 11:10 that he was in a meeting and would respond in an hour’s time.
But he did not and when called around 3 pm, he assured that he was going to respond to the questionnaire which he did not by press time despite a WhatsApp reminder yesterday.
In the questionnaire, we asked Kachere when the contract with NFRA was signed and if he was queried by NFRA on the missing maize and if he had given any statement to police, among other questions.
The transporter, according to the NFRA sources, was assigned in September to carry maize from Admarc depots that included those in Rumphi and Mzimba.
The incident happened at a critical time as between June and September 2022, an estimated 2.6 million people, representing 13 percent of the country’s population, experienced acute food insecurity in 28 districts and four cities.
According to the IPC food insecurity report, urgent action was required to protect livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps.
The sources claimed that NFRA senior officers attempted to cover up the suspected theft, but it was frustrated after officials in Admarc depots where maize was collected posted to the receiving centre point at NFRA how much maize was taken from them.
Admarc bought maize for NFRA and it has been keeping it in its depots. This was after government, thorough Parliament, funded Admarc with K12 billion to buy maize on behalf of NFRA. Initially NFRA was funded directly to purchase maize for SGRs.
On October 11, Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture summoned NFRA management to discuss the agency’s affairs after the dramatic closure of Admarc which was keeping the agency’s maize.
The committee’s chairperson Sameer Suleman also claimed 18 trucks carrying maize meant for NFRA were also reported missing and asked NFRA CEO to address that issue.
The CEO said the agency had 37 197 MT of maize in its SGRs, and 30 301 MT was with Admarc.
Kayongo said if the maize is collected, the agency would have 105 000 MT. She said NFRA received K12 billion to procure maize, but they now remain with K4.7 billion to procure 15 000 MT.
She said about K6.9 million was spent on procurement while about K400 million was for operational costs. Kayongo further said the K12 billion funding was meant for 38 000 MT, but they have procured 23 000 MT.
The CEO said they were liaising with Admarc to use the remaining K4.7 billion secure and uplift Admarc maize under collateral for loans it has with banks