By Ibraheem Abdullateef
Since Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq assumed office last year, he never left the populace in doubt of his passion for Agricultural Mechanization. It defines the many steps his administration has since taken, including the distribution of NPK fertilizer in partnership with OCP Africa to 3000 farmers in Edu Local Government to boost rice production, and the well-anchored tractorization initiative in a bid to survive food insecurity which could arise from the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
The Tractorization Subsidy Scheme is an initiative to make tractors available to the farmers at a lesser cost available in the market. While as of the time of the flag- off, the market cost of hiring a tractor was between 15- N16,000, the farmers were given the tractors for a sum of N10,000 per hectare of land— a healthy N6,000 reduction. The farmers have since been accessing and lauding the scheme, with many saying it would scale farming, boost food security, and address the poverty rate in the state.
That was the story until a report surfaced in the media, with a screaming headline alleging the scheme was enmeshed in a multi-million naira contract scam. The author Fresh Insight, needless to say, was the same with a misleading headline that Kwara spent 17.3m daily between April 1st- June 29, 2020, in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. With prejudice to antecedents, which is sacrosanct in journalism, this very one is not also premised on a detailed investigation. If it were, he’d have known and established the reasons there was a disparity in the payments to the two tractor- leasing companies, MECA and Traxi.
As it has since been espoused by the Technical Assistant to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq on Agriculture on a radio programme between him and the reporter earlier today, the attempts to slap the contract with a concocted financial scandal won’t ever fly. It is not because it is perfect but because there is nothing of such in the whole thing. Don’t take it from me. Let’s review the reports. According to the available documents, TRAXI was paid N44, 325,000 inclusive of 16.5% for 26 tractors, while the other company MECA received N48, 600,000 for just 24 tractors. The obvious payment of more money for fewer tractors caught their fancy and they’d go ahead to file a damaging story without establishing the reasons.
Since the public deserves a second story, it is incumbent upon someone like myself to review the claims. The reason money paid to MECA was more than that of TRAXI even when they were supplying lesser farm inputs borders on the terms of the contract. The contract with the former was broader, it included four different things; leasing of 24 tractors, logistics for transportation to Kwara, operators allowance( N5,000 per day), and refundable caution fee. On the other hand, the deal with TRAXI contained only two scopes; leasing of 26 tractors and logistics for transportation. How could they have been the same? A true investigation should have been to unravel that before hitting the published button.
One other big claim with no substance was that Governor AbdulRazaq signed a waiver for MECA– the same company they alleged received bigger money for fewer tractors for no reason. While skimming the 2- series report, there was no document to back it and there shall never be one. The governor as a true patriot never took such action. The fact of the matter is that both companies paid 16.5 % on the contract and the onus is on Fresh Insight to prove otherwise. We should also get something clear; farm inputs and equipment are not ideally vat-able but the government couldn’t forgo such a huge amount. It is then inexplicable some reporters painted such a bad narrative of him.
Like I said earlier, the contract process was not the most perfect. There may be one or two infractions according to the procurement law. However, these are even subject to interpretation in the court of laws. The Technical Assistant pontificated that fears expressed over the non- compliance with the law is covered by section 60 of the same law. The section speaks to an emergency which includes war, insurrection, catastrophe, etc. To argue the correctness, one must be armed with the knowledge that the government initially budgeted to procure 100 tractors for farmers until the pandemic struck.
The outbreak of COVID-19 made nonsense of the plan and had to revisit the decision by going for a cheaper alternative, leasing the tractors. This led to the Tractorization Subsidy Scheme– a response to the global fears of food shortage– to submerge the effects of the pandemic on food security. If one would argue over the points on procurement, he should be conversant with the change in plans ( acquisition — leasing) and the underlying reasons. The definition of an emergency according to the procurement and the dictionary may help. However, since we practice democracy, the court of law may not also be a bad option. The government may be sued for it.
It may only be necessary that one who calls for equity should come with clean hands. Fresh Insight has consistently failed to substantiate its claims against the government at two different times now. The latest in the series of blunders is grievous and unpatriotic. For not being able to establish contract inflation and waiver of taxes for contractors is highly disappointing and vitiates the prism of investigative reportage. To start with, no report worth its salt doesn’t carry pictures and videos to hold its claims. In the absence of evidence and articulation of claims, investigative journalism becomes a mere exercise of blackmail.
I make no attempt to exonerate the government of clear default on procurement law as only the court is most capable, but where is the multi-million naira scandal? Kwarans should ask Fresh Insight for documents having the governor’s signature granting waivers to the companies.