Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo says the Ministry of Finance is not able to give a time frame for when agro dealers will be paid.

And Katambo has disclosed that government still owes agro dealers K374 million.

Responding to a question by Chinkankata UPND member of parliament Kabwe Mwiinga, who wanted to find out how long it would take for agro dealers to wait until they were paid their outstanding arrears, Katambo said he could not give a time frame because it was dependent on the Ministry of Finance.

“I did indicate that the (Agriculture) Ministry is working closely with the Ministry of Finance that through the budgeted funds, we should be able to clear the pending arrears that we owe agro dealers so that we clear all the invoices that have been invoiced to the Ministry of Agriculture. So, we are committed. The Ministry of Finance will be not be able to give a time frame at which they would be able to pay agro dealers so once these funds are made available, we will be able to pay agro dealers,” Katambo said.

And Kaputa PF member of parliament Maxas Ng’onga asked if farmers would be able to get their inputs from agro dealers who held them at ransom.

In response, Katambo said his Ministry was working to engage alternative suppliers.

“The district where we are facing challenges with agro dealers to issue inputs to our beneficiaries; the Ministry is finding solutions to engage suppliers so that they can fill in the gap that is being left by agro dealers. This is a business where agro dealers have themselves to judge whether they have capacity to issue these inputs to farmers. So, with this challenge of debt that we owe them, others are able to issue the inputs, others are reluctant and making demands that until government pay the debt we owe them,” Katambo replied.

Earlier, when rendering a ministerial statement, Katambo disclosed that government owed agro dealers K374 million.

“The Ministry had held meetings with several representatives of agro dealers to update and assure them of government’s commitment to clear the outstanding arrears. Mr Speaker, at the beginning of 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture owed agro dealers K105.4 million for the 2017/2018 season, and K1.1 billion for the 2018/2019 season; this brings the total amount owed to agro dealers to K1.2 billion. As of 20th November, 2019, the Ministry paid over K804 million leaving a balance of K374 million from the amount owed. Mr Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, government has been working hard to ensure that these arrears are cleared. We have continued to engage with Ministry of Finance on the release of funds owed to agro dealers,” Katambo said.

He outlined that his Ministry had introduced mechanisms to ensure that agro dealers would be paid on time in future.

“Going forward, to reduce accumulation of arrears to agro dealers, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture have put in place a mechanism to make sure that agro dealers are paid promptly during the 2019/2020 season. This mechanism includes retention of the K400 contribution from farmers to pay agro dealers’ invoices. From the farmer contribution so far, we have raised an estimated K3,65.3 million and we have already made payments amounting approximately K123 million for the 2019/2020 season. There are major reports indicating that the Ministry is paying the current invoices instead of clearing their arrears. It is not true that funds meant for agro dealers to clear last year’s arrears are used to pay agro dealers who supply the current 2019/2020 season. For the avoidance of doubt, the money that that we returned from the farmers’ contribution this season will be used to pay the agro dealers’ invoices for this season,” said Katambo.