The Electronic Voucher lacks transparency in the selection of agro-dealers as some of them have been conniving to benefit from some farmers’ e-cards, says Party of National Unity president Highvie Hamududu.

And Hamududu, the former UPND Bweengwa member of parliament, dismissed repeated criticism of the e-voucher by some politicians because it remains a progressive platform to develop Zambia’s input distribution.

Hamududu said though the e-voucher has been a good platform for input distribution, but lacked transparency in the selection of agro-dealers, adding that some agro-dealers had been conniving with other players in the sector to benefit from farmers’ e-cards.

He called on members of parliament to demand transparency in the selection process of agro-dealers, adding that there was a lot of unfairness and corruption in the way agro-dealers were currently being selected.

“There is another problem of selection of the agro-dealers. Let Parliament demand transparency in the process of selecting agro-dealers. So, let us now bring more transparency in that. Then some agro-dealers also misbehaved, some of them were getting farmers’ cards. So, there were some corrupt activities by some agro-dealers. So, deal with that corruption. Don’t condemn the e-voucher. Everyone will just laugh at you; ‘how can you go to the backward thing?’ You want government to continue paying for storage and transport costs? Do we have the money? We need more beneficiaries on that system so [what] we need to do is to deal with the unfairness in the selection of agro-dealers. I live in Monze, I know what is happening. Some people are complaining that they are agro-dealers, but they are not allowed to swipe. Let the people who are involved, I know the guys like Musika, let them not just give their friends. They must be fair, they must not connive with the guys at Mulungushi House,” Hamududu revealed in an interview with News Diggers!

“So, those agro-dealers, who are not being captured to participate in the process, they must protest that they must be part of the process. This is a problem, but it’s not because of the e-voucher, if there is corruption, deal with the corruption because if there is corruption in schools we don’t close schools, but discipline those who have got issues. Should we stop banking because there is corruption in the bank? No, just remove the corrupt people.”

Last week, All People’s Congress (APC) president, Nason Msoni, lamented that the e-voucher had been turned into a “cash cow” by politicians and top civil servants evidenced by its failures from the just-ended farming season.

Hamududu, however, challenged critics to propose their alternatives to the current system.

“E-voucher is the correct platform for the delivery of inputs because it’s an IT (Information Technology) based platform. There is nothing wrong with e-voucher, and when I was in Parliament, parliamentarians were in the forefront of introducing e-voucher. There was a committee on agriculture that even went to Malawi to say, ‘can we have the e-voucher here as a way of distributing inputs to the farmers under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP)? E-voucher makes the distribution of inputs cheaper because you cut down transport costs. Government no longer bears the transport costs, and it stopped bearing the storage costs. So, that money saved is used to increase the number of beneficiaries. From a business, and from a common sense point of view, the e-voucher is the most credible platform for distribution of farmer input support,” Hamududu explained.

“So, those who are saying we must do away with the e-voucher should tell you what is the option? Do we want to go to the most corrupt thing where those guys were just taking corrupt tenders and everything? I have someone who was working there and he told me that it was dirty.”

He added that the introduction of the e-voucher had also brought in competition among agro-dealers, which had led to reduction in prices of farming inputs.

“You can use that support to rear chickens; you can use that support to buy a car; to grow maize; beans or whatever else is appropriate. Those are very positive developments, and then the e-voucher has also helped to develop the agro-supply value chain because now there are more players that are involved in agro-supply. So, now, agro-dealers in every town of this country are benefiting. Previously, there were only, maybe four curtails that were benefiting from the supply of fertilizer and the seed and promoting only the agriculture of maize. So, there is growth of the agro-dealers’ business now, you will find that in every town now, there is an agro-dealer. This has brought competition; we are a free market economy and competition leads to the reduction of prices. I can tell you that since the introduction of the e-voucher, the prices of agro products have basically stabilized because of the competition,” Hamududu noted.

“When we had those curtails supplying fertilizer, the prices of fertilizer were just shooting up because the price was not based on supply and demand; it was based on administrative corruption. But since the introduction of e-voucher, all that has been stopped because there is competition now. So, you are growing the capacity of the agro-dealing sector. We have even seen that the industries that produce fertilizer were happy to see a company coming to the MFEZ [Multi-Facility Economic Zone] producing fertilizer. Competition is needed in the sector.”

He, however, admitted that the e-voucher system had a number of challenges, but that citizens needed to just deal with them, rather than doing away with the entire system.

“I have heard some people saying, ‘e-voucher is a bad thing.’ But what is the problem with the e-voucher? One of the problems with the e-voucher is financing, the government is not putting money there early, and is not putting enough money. We have these facts because what has happened is that the Ministry of Agriculture owed suppliers who were supplying fertilizer a lot of money because their fertilizer was overpriced. That is a fact, any funding that was going to agriculture was being used to fund the quarters in the old system, to pay those suppliers,” said Hamududu.

“We must embrace technology. Yes, there is a problem of less funding to the e-voucher, if there is no money in the account then it can’t work. But can you withdraw money in your account if there is no money? No. I have heard some parties arguing against e-voucher when in Parliament we were resolved. The UPND that time, the MMD, the PF, we all agreed. If some people have turned e-voucher into a cash cow, that is an issue to deal with.”

An e-voucher uses a mobile delivery and tracking system to distribute subsidized agricultural inputs through agro-dealers/input suppliers to targeted farmers.

Each beneficiary farmer’s e-card is linked to their specific name and National Registration Card (NRC) number.