Rwandan prosecution is in the final stages of processing charges against 11 fertilizer dealers accused of running a strong mafia-like network that has sucked billions of taxpayers’ money through drawing ghost lists of farmers and conniving with some government officials to fault procurement procedures.
The Rwandan fertilizer politics are some of the most complex that even President Paul Kagame has to be involved to fix the puzzle. Many have gone to jail, others siphoned millions and gotten away with it, other officials fired. The fertilizer politics have attracted a powerful network of mafias who maneuver all their way to ensure the cash cow is only milked by them.
As early as 2005, the government embarked on the bulk procurement of fertilizers to increase access and use among farmers in the country. By then farmers were using 3kg/ha in 2006 and the interventions had resulted in the use of 45Kg/ha by 2017.
It should be noted that the government partnered with private companies to import required types of fertilizers and quantities according to the timeliness and cropping seasons.
However, whenever the fertilizers arrived in the country, some dubious dealers saw an opportunity because of the loopholes. Tones of fertilizers were being loaded on trucks and sold to neighbouring Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and DR Congo. Rwanda was losing so much in the process.
The media used every opportunity to repeatedly ask President Kagame what he was doing about the disturbing incidences of fertilizer theft in which even local officials were frequently cited in the malpractice.
During President Kagame’s outreach program in which he travelled across the country to meet with the citizens, farmers did not disappoint. They always asked for the microphone and registered their anger about the challenges of accessing fertilizer which they said were responsible for poor yields. The Ministry was under Agnes Matilda Kalibata.
In October 2010, the Rwanda National Police swung into action and trailed the fertilizer thieves and their network. It was disbanded and many arrested, government accomplices fired and others prosecuted. In 2016, the government also pulled out of fertilizer importation and left it to four private companies including; (I.D.F, E.T.G, ENAS, and TOP SERVICE ENTERPRISES).
Even though the private sector took over the importation of fertilizer, supply, and distribution business, the malpractices resurfaced in a different form since the Ministry of Agriculture would remain involved in paperwork for tenders. This is where high-level financial fraud would be calculated.
How a Supplier Took On The Mafias
One of the fertilizer tycoons, Nkubili Alfred, operating under a company known as ETS Nkubili Alfred [ENAS], dealing in general commerce, agriculture, import, and export noticed that the fertilizer sub-sector had been infested with malpractices at alarming levels. In 2014, on March 29 – 30, The New Times published a notice calling for expressions of interest to supply fertilizers under the national crop intensification program. Several companies submitted their proposals. Only ENAS was successful.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) officially wrote to ENAS Company congratulating it on winning the tough selection.
“Reference is made to notification from MINAGRI of June 5, 2014, to the effect that your expression of interest had been successful and that you would be invited to make your quotations,” reads part of the letter signed by former Permanent Secretary Tony Nsanganira.
‘Further, reference is made to the invitation for your company to provide quotations for subsidised Mineral Fertilizers that you commit to import and supply for the crop intensification program seasons 2015A&B. I wish to inform you that your price quotation and delivery for the importation and supply fertilizers for Lot 1, lot 2, lot 5, and Lot 6 has been accepted. You are invited for a meeting to take place on June 25, 2014, at MINAGRI for contract negotiations and signing,” the letter says.
Nkubili and his team are said to have prepared themselves to meet the MINAGRI team for negotiations and signing. The meeting took place but they were shortchanged at the last minute.
ENAS registered its dissatisfaction with the manner things had changed. “Based on public notice inviting for expression of interest as published in The New Times on March 29, 2014, we inform you that we were not happy with the way this tender was handled. In your letter 1268/11.30 of June 25, 2014, in which you informed us of winning Lot 1, Lot 2, Lot 5, and Lot 6 including inviting us for negotiation and signing. We were shocked to learn from the meeting that other companies had been awarded the said Lots. We were also surprised to learn that those companies proposed high prices yet we had the lowest.”
ENAS told Taarifa that they lost the deal at the last minute because MINAGRI officials in that meeting had asked ENAS to inflate their price quotations but ENAS refused and told them they are honourable and ethical business practitioners that would not engage in such illegal moves.
A senior official who was working in MINAGRI in 2014, spoke to Taarifa on condition of anonymity. He said that MINAGRI was concerned that Nkubili and other few suppliers were holding monopoly of the fertilizer industry and decided to diversify the sector by bringing in other suppliers. “There were no contracts per se.. We were not buying any goods or services, we were protecting farmers, ” the former official said.
“This is how other companies with high price quotations were called and handed the deal unilaterally with disregard of procurement procedures,” Nkubili’s son, Remy Muhirwa told Taarifa.
The failed illegal deal between Nkubili and some MINAGRI officials has since resulted in a protracted fight between them until ENAS was struck off the list of private companies that were working in partnership with the Agriculture Ministry in fertilizer import, supply, and distribution.
The company has also invested in a fertilizer plant big enough to produce quantities needed in Rwanda, but MINAGRI placed a caveat on all distributors and warned them not to buy from ENAS, citing moisture elements in their fertilizers, despite Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) contradicting MINAGRI and giving ENAS certification to sell to individual farmers.
Meanwhile, in 2015, ENAS had secured 900,000 Euros of a grant from a U.K NGO, FoodTrade, as a contribution to the construction of the fertilizer factory in the effort to cut down heavy importation of fertilizers. After disbursement of over 769,000 Euros, MINAGRi wrote to FoodTrade, asking them to stop funding ENAS. MINAGRI was responding to inquiries from FoodTrade about ENAS’s licensing. Instead of recommending ENAS, MINAGRI demanded that FoodTrade’s funding be suspended, citing two reasons; that ENAS is prohibited from producing fertilizers in Rwanda and is not a beneficiary of subsidies.
After investigating and assessing MINAGRI’s claims, FoodTrade went ahead and completed their funding to ENAS. Later, sources say, Rwanda Development Board (BRD) dismissed MINAGRI’s claims that ENAS is not a permitted producer or fertilizers, instead RDB went ahead recognised ENAS as a fertilizer production plant. Ironically, the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) also disagreed with MINAGRI and approved ENAS’s fertilizers, saying that their products had passed laboratory tests.
On July 28, 2015, Nkubili wrote a letter to the Agriculture Minister requesting a partnership in fixing problems in the fertilizer business.
“Honourable Minister as witnessed in the just-concluded season, we have witnessed one part of Northern Province where some Agro dealers created a list of ‘Ghost Farmers’ and indicated that they had been supplied with fertilizers and government paid for all these farmers,” Nkubili wrote, adding, “We informed your staff many times but they have not done anything about it. Therefore because all these challenges affect the implementation of the agriculture policy on fertilizers we thought this malpractice should be stopped immediately so that it would not affect the upcoming season of 2016,” Nkubili said in his letter.
Nkubili also delivered the same letter to the President’s Office and the reception stamp was duly pressed on the letter on July 28. Others copied and acknowledged receipt included the Prime Minister’s Office, Finance Ministry, the Local Government Ministry, and Rwanda National Police (RNP).
Nkubili’s persistence in petitioning higher authorities in the government about the presence of a syndicated mafia-like network that has been siphoning money and fertilizers has since cost him. His company, ENAS, has been removed from a list of companies that officially worked in partnership with MINAGRI to supply fertilizers.
Nkubili and other suppliers have been in detention for over two months pending trial. The prosecutor’s office submitted a file on the case to court on Friday, September 11.They were arrested and detained on June 29.
Meanwhile, Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) told Taarifa that this case involving several fertilizer dealers is purely criminal. RIB says the role of MINAGRI staff was a failure to enforce or following up on contractual obligations of suppliers, and that it is an administrative matter and, not a criminal one. All MINAGRI staff interrogated are free. No charges have been placed on them, because “fertilizer dealers have declined to mention who they deal with.”
However, Taarifa has seen a letter written by Charles Murekezi, Head of TaskForce of the Fertilizer Program in MINAGRI, writing to the CEO of Top Service LTD, Ladislus Biguma Mwitende, one of the fertilizer dealers, who was convicted of forgery and use of forged documents. In the letter, the official informs Biguma Mwitende that he had exceeded the number of fertilizer beneficiaries by submitting 23,316 forged vouchers worth over Rwf300 million.
But MINAGRI went ahead and approved payment of Rwf1,010,170,500 equivalent to 50,568 vouchers. Later, the company repeated the same crime for two years submitting inflated invoices with ghost beneficiaries and getting paid before other suppliers. MINAGRI staff did not report the forgery, neither was anyone held accountable for paying a fraudster.
Agriculture Minister Gerardine Mukeshimana, declined to comment on any of the above cases, saying that, “Fertilizer cases are still in court. Thanks.” “Let’s trust the justice systems, as I said, all of these things are there and wait for their due diligence. Thanks,” she told Taarifa on Saturday.
Minister Mukeshimana Refused To Attend Meeting Chaired By Kagame
On June 26, President Kagame chaired the Extended National Executive Committee (NEC) convened at the RPF party Headquarters in Rusororo, Gasabo district. One of the key issues discussed was the sophisticated corruption among public officials and private business owners.
One of the issues discussed was the issue of fertilizers. The President said that he had been informed that the Agriculture Minister was absent. When asked why she did not attend the meeting, the Minister ignored us.
Meanwhile, the President at the meeting asked who else was present to answer questions regarding fertilizer problems in the country. Jean Claude Musabyimana, the current Permanent Secretary explained that a dossier on 11 dealers had been prepared and was ready for submission to investigators and prosecutors. The President was furious, demanding why it had taken that long.
On June 29, arrests were made and interrogations followed. Some suspects have since been released, particularly those who paid some money to buy their freedom. However, others, even after paying, were not released, including Nkubili, who is, according to his family, suffering a severe medical condition.
Sources Taarifa has spoken to, including RIB investigators, claim that no suspect is clean, and that there is enough evidence to pin them. Other sources say there are powerful individuals behind these cases and are worried they will be exposed if the suspects speak up.