Manzini-The culture of mismanagement and apparent corruption at the National Agricultural and Marketing Board (NamBoard) seems to have culminated in the misappropriation of E4 Million. This is reported to have happened when the state entity purchased Sdemane farm at Hawane for E 4 Million but borrowed E 8 Million from financial institutions for the procurement. It is yet to be determined what happened to the balance of E 4 Million.
One of NamBoards key mandates is to empower local farmers and to protect the local market by imposing levies on imports that threaten the security of emaSwati vegetable farmers.
Sdemane Farm was bought in 2017 and started operating in 2018. It was purchased to promote the cultivation of export products such as baby vegetables. Former staff members of the parastatal informed the Independent News that the Chief Executive at the time did announce that NamBoard had invested in the property. They were told to work closely with the farm especially in as far as supplying farm inputs such as fertilizers from NamBoard’s Encabeni facility.
However, since its acquisition it seems as if there has been no synergy between the newly acquired branch of the enterprise and the main office. With continued operations, it was observed that rather than promoting the interests of local farmers, it started to compete with them. According to a farmer who supplied his products to NamBoard at the time Sicelo Matfunjwa,* “things were not operating optimally because we soon realized that there were two payment rates. We were made to understand that there was an export rate for produce taken to the Hawane pack house and a local rate for produce taken to the Encabeni pack house even though the vegetables that we supplied them were of the same grade. Many of us decided to sell our produce to the Sdemane packhouse rather than sell to the NamBoard Encabeni packhouse which became less operational. “
*Not his real name
Things were not so rosy at Sdemane either. The former employees of Sdemane farm who were working there before and during the time of the acquisition say “the farm was bought from a certain Themba Dlamini. When the farm was bought, NamBoard then appointed Themba Dlamini as the new farm manager. His wife and daughter were also employed at Sdemane. Themba Dlamini was given a three year contract and the contractual status of the employees also changed and they too were given three year contracts but they were not informed and they continued working there under the conviction that they were employed on a permanent basis. This state of affairs has triggered a long labour dispute between the employees and NamBoard with the Labour Commissioner.”
Rather than becoming a valued national asset that generated foreign earnings to Eswatini’s economy through its envisaged export function, Sdemane farm has been mired with a myriad of problems. Close observers of the entity are of the impression that “if it is true that Sdemane farm was purchased for export purposes then what about the demand locally for the very same produce. In terms of the amount of produce that Eswatini imports it is clear that the country cannot meet its own food demands. Even local retailers are importing and selling the same product the NamBoard claims to be exporting.
Nonetheless, these issues are the least of the challenges experienced by the agricultural enterprise; the matter of the outstanding E 4 Million related to the purchase of the farm remains a thorn in the flesh of the authorities and has brought unwarranted attention. It is alleged that a certain portion of the money was placed in the investment account of a well -known financial institution in Mbabane. The remaining portion was then deposited into a call account in order to accrue superior interest rates and can be used to replenish the current or operational account of the enterprise should the need arise.
However, interested observers say it is not clear where the money sits in these accounts. That is why the independent forensic investigating company, Price Waterhouse Coopers has been roped in. The auditing firm is expected to issue a report on the matter before the end of the financial year.