5 February 2013

Sierra Leone: Tractor Scam Exposed!

An official of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) has explained how most of the farmers and farmer-based organizations acquired government tractors from the ministry thus leaving many Sierra Leoneans to wonder how the former Minister of Trade (now appointed Chief of Staff at State House), Dr. Richard Konteh, managed to get hold of one of the tractors as his application was not found among the lot.

For the past three months, Concord Times has strived to unravel how one of the tractors earmarked for farmers found its way into Dr. Konteh'sMamaka Lodge Guest House compound in Makeni where it is being used as a water tanker that supplies water for the entire building.

The tractor sighted in Dr. Konteh's compound is still roadworthy and carries government's number plate but no proper explanation has been provided as efforts made to get the side of Dr. Konteh on the tractor issue proved futile and Agriculture Ministry officials are yet to come out with a statement regarding the tractor seen at the Mamaka Lodge Guest House.

Project Manager, Agriculture for Development within MAFFS, Michael A.T. Kalainkay, said though the Audit Service Sierra Leone claimed that there were serious irregularities in the distribution of the Indian tractors to different districts, the Chamber of Agriculture and the National Federation of Farmers in Sierra Leone were the first institutions that vetted applicants.

"We realized that for a very long time farmers in Sierra Leone have been depending on the hoe, cutlass and their hands to produce and feed the nation as well as to generate foreign income through produce export," Kalainkay said in an interview with Concord Times. "This situation has basically kept our farmers in a vicious cycle of subsistence farming. The government took a bold policy decision to empower Sierra Leonean farmers by providing agricultural machineries and equipment to farmers and their farmer-based organizations. In that regard, some commercial banks were engaged, including the National Federation of Farmers and the Chamber of Agriculture, to facilitate the disbursement of those assets."

Kalainkay noted that a memorandum of understanding was signed between farmers and banking institutions including the First International Bank, Bank of Sierra Leone and Zenith Bank for the appraisal of applications and successful applicants were asked to pay a 20% subsidized cost for each tractor.

He added that after the government paid 40% of the stipulated cost of each tractor ($21,958), participating banks agreed to partner with the ministry in the implementation of the hired purchase scheme as a project implementer based on a conclusion that the tractors would be immediately removed from farmers who fail to pay 20% of the total amount upfront.

According to the agreed policy of the hired purchase scheme for the tractors, all stakeholders were to take full responsibility of the application forms in which the land preparation must have been verified and certified by the ministry before applicants were referred to their respective participatory banks.

Dr. Konteh could not be said or proven to have followed any of the steps in the process as documents containing names of all applicants for the said tractors - now in Concord Times' possession - have clearly shown.

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