‘Rasputin’ Jangulo, tender confusion spell danger to farming season.
By John Phiri.
When the Hakainde Hichilema throne finally begins to unravel, as it inevitably will, with time, the name of Maurice ‘Rasputin’ Jangulo will be right smack in the midst of things.
It is not just that with the election the United Party for National Development(UPND), he has started to enjoy good business fortune.
He has actually emerged as representing a hidden agenda that might prove to be the undoing of Hichilema’s government.
This agenda seems to be working on a kind of Replacement Theory – if you worked under or with the previous Patriotic Front government, either as a public servant or a business entity, you must be shipped out, whether you did wrong or were simply going about your work the best way you could.
It also aims to place in the most lucrative sectors a string of newly formed cooperative or partnership firms run by connected UPND members and political allies of the new rulers.
Special room is therefore being created for ‘those who suffered with us while in opposition’, who can lay some kind of claim to having been or simply felt “marginalised”, which victimisation or mistreatment has no defined objective measure.
It is this practice that has produced short term winners, and Jangulo and his Alpha Commodities seem to be the most spectacular, visible representatives of the characteristics of this new special class.
Unfortunately, this practice is also fast yielding a growing number of freshly victimised public service and parastatal workers, many of them professionals whose careers predate the now thoroughly demonised PF government.
Many business entities have also been targeted for banishment from government contracts for the similar indeterminate “crime” of having worked with the PF, whether or not they have actually been found to have done any wrong.
It is too late for Jangulo to escape scrutiny for his spectacular and sudden rise as the kingpin of the fertiliser supply business, and his Alpha Commodities being the only company guaranteed fertiliser supply contracts.
Neither can he easily shake off on-going comparisons with the infamous historical figure, Gregory Rasputin, who ingratiated himself into the household of the Tsar of Russia and reaped financial and other benefits.
Just like Rasputin before him helped soil the Russian throne with intrigue and fake healing schemes, Jangulo may soon be the person to attract much odium to the Presidency because of growing speculation about his alleged influence over the processing of fertiliser supply contracts since the UPND came into power.
Much of this speculation has been fed by the government’s failure to answer questions raised after it single-sourced Jangulo’s Alpha Commodities to supply what was presented as an ’emergency requirement’ for Southern Province in the last farming season.
‘Rasputin’ Jangulo’s company was not just handpicked, but also given a $50 million upfront payment for delivery of 37,000 tonnes of fertiliser at the above market price of $1407 per tonne, when the market price at the time was just about $1000 per tonne.
When Alpha Commodities faced some logistical hiccups during execution of that contract, the government leapt to his defence, declaring his operation as efficient even when some consignments were delivered late, while others failed laboratory tests on quality.
The government simply brushed aside all the questions raised about this episode, as the work of Jangulo’s enemies.
But the questions have not gone away. Principally those raised by Socialist Party President Fred M’membe:
“This government has failed to explain why it single-sourced Maurice Jangulo’s Alfa Commodities to supply 37,000 tonnes of fertilizers at $1,407 per tonne while the general market price is $1,000 per tonne – stealing an additional $15.059 million from the Zambian people in super profits.
Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia (NCZ) was given to supply 13,000 tonnes of fertilisers at $1,000 per tonne. On top of this Jangulo had no stocks of fertilizers and started going around trying to source the commodity from his competitors whom he had discredited in an audit he had initiated and influenced.
We challenge this government to explain why Jangulo was allowed to control, direct, manipulate and falsify a fertiliser audit under its supervision and control.
This is pure corruption that this government and the state agencies – ACC, DEC and the police – under its control have failed to deal with. Why? Our simple and only explanation is that Jangulo is too close to the key leadership of this government to be touched.
He is their partner – he works and eats with them. Clearly, this government’s fight against corruption has gone down the drain,” M’membe had asked.
Despite all this, Alpha Commodities is now seemingly the one company guaranteed to be on the list of fertiliser suppliers, regardless of what tendering process is used.
Apart from the unanswered questions from last season, the government seems to have, not just defended ‘Rasputin’ Jangulo’s reputation as a fertiliser guru, but also touted Alpha Commodities as the most efficient operator, on the strength of that single supply.
Is the government as spellbound by Jangulo as the Tsar’s household was by the influence Rasputin?
In terms of influence, ‘Rasputin’ Jangulo has bestrode critical stages of this government’s short fertiliser supply history, such as the hiring of a firm to audit previous government fertiliser supply contracts that preceded last season’s sourcing of the $50 million emergency consignment.
Since ’emergency’ worked last time, the government seems intent on creating other emergency conditions to smoothen or facilitate hand-picking of new fertiliser suppliers.
The new self-induced emergency now has to do with late processing and conclusion of contracts so that constraint of time can be used to hide and justify hand-picking of allies’ firms, and editing the list of others, with only Alpha Commodities having a guaranteed slot.
But there are two dangers in this process. One is to the government operatives prosecuting it.
They should remember that Zambia has faced no greater emergency than the pandemic.
Because people were dying emergency procurement of kits was done under conditons that ‘suspended’ some normal procedures.
Still the UPND government is prosecuting some ex-government officials who worked on those tenders, for not following procedure.
The $50 million tender, and now the current one will be on the list of issues to be probed at the end of this government’s tenure.
However, this season’s fertiliser tender has raised even more significant questions, apart from being the murkiest in Zambia’s history.
The big news, of course, being the cancellation by the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) of the tender fertiliser for the supply and delivery of D-Compound fertiliser for the 2022 -23 farming season.
Following this tender, Samar Agro Investments, Stuotone Investments, Agrizam Investments Limited, Conchak Investments, Alpha Commodities and Evergreen Fertiliser Limited, were named best evaluated bidders for six out of the 10 lots available.
Firms awarded the remaining four lots were not announced, for reasons still unclear.
But last week the unthinkable happened. The already delayed tender for supply of fertiliser, required for the farming season that usually commences in November, was cancelled for the above-stated reason, even after the best evaluated bidders were encouraged to proceed to make delivery arrangements even before the contracts were signed.
According to the ZPPA explanation, the Open National Bidding Tender, unfortunately, allowed the participation of foreign companies, which flouted section 39 (2) of the Public Procurement Act of 2020.
Following the cancellation, the Ministry of Agriculture has proceeded to conduct a new tender under Limited Bidding Method, which saw a reconfiguration of firms picked for this supply, now enjoying special emergency circumstances, does not need to be advertised, and can be restricted to nominated firms.
The new list so far reported includes FSG, United Capital Fertiliser, ETG, Alpha Commodities and Agrizam, excluding some of those already announced as best evaluated bidders, and already called for negotiations.
Alpha Commodities’ place seems guaranteed.
Through the cancellation, one thing has become clear.
Not all UPND members are enamoured with the new clandestine nature of this bidding, evaluation and choice of firms to supply fertiliser for the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP).
The refusal by the ZPPA to name the individuals or firms who complained, resulting in the cancellation, points to the fact that they have sufficient party or government stature not to be antagonised, and have the ear of the very top of this government.
The period between cancellation, new tender and list of new suppliers has been accomplished within the week, without showing when application to ZPPA for limited bidding was done, leading to understandable allegations of fraud and corruption.
There are questions relating to accomplishing a tender of this magnitude (of about $300million) within a few days when it should ordinarily take up to 21 days.
There appears to have been a parallel process all along, aimed at guaranteeing Alpha Commodities’ place, squeezing in ETG (reputed to have a strong State House lobby), and scheming to award other pre-determined and pre-selected bidders.
Now the hapless, out-of-the-loop, Minister of Agriculture, Mtolo Phiri, claims the government has picked companies that have fertiliser stocks.
Could it be that part of the delay in processing this tender was deliberate, to allow those guaranteed to be on the list to bring in and store fertiliser awaiting smoothing out of the route by duping the public as to the need for limited bidding? Is this the reason why Phiri is confident that fertiliser distribution will begin next month?
There are dangers relating to government’s ‘shock treatment’ gambit of shedding all the old suppliers, regardless of their track records.
Dispensing with experience and established logistical capacity could open the procurement and supply process to dangerous uncertainties.
In this, the government appears to be banking on ‘Rasputin’ Jangulo having used wisely the $50 million upfront payment from last farming season to secure some advance stocks to cover his guaranteed larger quota for this season.
Some observers have already pointed out the potential danger of late delivery of fertiliser for the FISP programme.
The small scale farmers, who are the programme’s beneficiaries, have up till now not been informed about the level of their contribution to the purchase price of the subsidised fertiliser.
Many of them are poor rural households who lack capacity for quick mobilisation of even small amounts of money during this critical time.
This, even famed mystic powers of the government’s ‘fertiliser guru’ cannot fix.
It could become a major hiccup if FISP fertiliser arrives just on the eve of kicking off the farming season.
President Hakainde Hichilema’s government also needs to learn lessons from the collapse of the Sri Lanka government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
President Rajapaksa had made two promises to the electorate. One was to“adopt an agricultural policy in which not only people will be dissuaded from abandoning agriculture, but also promote and encourage those in other employment pursuits to come into agriculture.
Our agricultural policy would be to promote an agricultural sector in which small producers using small extents of land producing high quality outputs using modern technological methods.”
The second major promise was that his government would make the overall costs involved in this production processes very low and competitive.
Both these promises have a familiar sound to Zambians because President Hichilema has promised more or less similar things would happen to local agriculture.
On lowering production costs, President Hichilema, in opposition was even more specific: he would lower the price of a bag of fertiliser, the key input for small scale farmers.
And both the former President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, and President Hichilema of Zambia have employed a kind of shock treatment to their respective problems of fertiliser supply.
Rajapaksa sought to do his cost reduction by dramatically banning use of chemical fertiliser, in favour of organic fertiliser, in one farming season, instead of phasing it over 10 years as had been earlier planned.
The result was that harvests collapsed because of the way President Rajapaksa introduced his policy.
Even organic farmers were angry. This was the genesis of the economic collapse that ended in his flight from his own country.
By insisting on picking largely untested entities to import the FISP requirement of fertilisers, in such a short space of time, President Hichilema has applied his own kind of shock treatment to the system, ostensibly to reduce the cost of the commodity.
Hopefully, with the help of ‘Rasputin’, President Hichilema’s shock treatment to the fertiliser supply system will not bring the same results as those Rajapaksa’s peasant farmers delivered, that eventually collapsed his government.
On the evidence of the handling of the season’s tender for supply of FISP ferrtiliser, the government of President Hichilema has shown itself less than methodical. Utter madness, some would say.
John Phiri is Former Editor Inchief of State owned Times of Zambia.