Parly summons Nikuv over command agriculture

PARLIAMENT’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has summoned agricultural inputs supplier, Pedstock Investments (Pedstock), to a hearing to explain circumstances in which it spent US$7 million it was allocated under government’s command agriculture scheme last season following concerns the money may have been misappropriated.

PAC chair Tendai Biti confirmed the development saying the committee wants the company to fully acquit for the money.

“You remember they are administering public funds extended to them under the Command Agriculture scheme in which they are supposed to supply irrigation equipment. So basically, we want to understand the legal issues surrounding their deal; did they go to tender and how much was it worthy in total. We have also asked them to bring all necessary documents. They are definitely going to appear before the committee,” Biti said.

Pedstock has been marred by allegations of externalising millions of United States dollars and making questionable payments.

It is a local subsidiary of Israeli company, Nikuv International Projects Limited, which hogged the limelight on allegations of electronically manipulating the 2013 general election outcome believed to have been rigged in favour of the Zanu PF and the late former president Robert Mugabe.

According to a government payment schedule seen today by the Zim Morning Post, Pedstock was allocated US$6 907 927 to source and supply irrigation equipment to some farmers contracted by government under the subsidised farm inputs scheme during the 2018/19 agriculture season.

The money was paid through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).

Government sources said Pedstock, which has participated in the controversial scheme since its inception in 2016, did not satisfactorily deliver on its contractual obligation arising from last season’s allocation.

According to the sources the matter is now subject to a parliamentary inquiry.

They were awarded a tender to supply centre pivots irrigators for farmers contracted by government under the Command Agriculture scheme but they didn’t deliver.

Now they have applied for yet another allocation for the coming season despite not having supplied an adequate number of centre pivots from the previous arrangement and this has attracted the interest of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee has since summoned the company’s top management to a hearing on how it spent the previous allocation before they can access more funding,” a government source said.

Pedstock managing director Dror Jackson, an Israeli businessman operating in Zimbabwe, however, said his company had fully utilised the money and was ready for the parliamentary grilling.

“All contractual obligations have been met and our company delivered all that was paid for by Govt, in record time. Govt. contracted us to deliver and install 80 centre pivots which we did in less than 8 months,” Jackson said.

He added that the committee had previously cancelled its hearing despite the fact that they had come fully prepared for it.

Pedstock was invited to come to Parliament. We attended the hearing, however, we were advised that it would be moved to another date. Please note that we came with all relevant paperwork and proof of delivery for all of what we had been contracted to do,” he said.

Pedstock initially courted controversy in 2017 when was accused of externalising millions of dollars by purportedly making payments to the police’s Minerals and Border Patrol Unit in a scam involving former Mines ministry secretary Francis Gudyanga.

In 2017, Jackson appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy where he was grilled on how he was used as a conduit to get a payment of more than US$1 million from the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) by Gudyanga in order to pay another Israeli company called Glamer, which has no offices in Zimbabwe.

Jackson denied ever dealing with the Mines ministry or MMCZ, but that his company was being used as a conduit for a confidential transaction between Glamer and the ministry.

Gudyanga is currently facing criminal abuse of office and corruption charges partly arising from the shady deal at the Harare Magistrates Court.

Command Agriculture, has been criticised as a looting scheme after huge amounts of funds went unaccounted for.

In June, the Auditor-General (AG) Mildred Chiri, in her annual audit reports, revealed that substantial amounts of money under the programme were looted, mostly by top government officials, derailing the initiative.

This has left millions of vulnerable citizens at the mercy of hunger. Government has since announced that it will splash an additional ZW$2,8 billion to finance production of the staple crop, maize, as well as soya beans under a cumulative land area of 240 000 hectares.

Currently, the number of people at risk of starvation this year has exponentially risen by 900% to 5,5 million, despite government shelling out a staggering US$3 billion since 2016 under the Command Agriculture programme targeted at alleviating starvation.