AMTA hubs in dire straits

White elephant status looms at Ongwediva, Rundu

04 July 2019 | Agriculture

Operations at the Agro-Marketing Trading Agency (AMTA) hubs at Ongwediva and Rundu are in dire straits despite the implementation of a cabinet resolution that called on all government offices, ministries and agencies (OMAs) to buy locally produced agricultural products and meat.

This is after AMTA got rid of private trading agents at the two fresh-produce hubs, leaving employees with nothing to do.

Rundu hub regional manager Iinekela Kambindji resigned last month, while Fysal Fresh Produce, which was last month given another three-month contract to operate from the Ongwediva fresh-produce hub, has vacated the premises. They finished packing up yesterday, after reporting they only had one customer every 30 minutes.

However, AMTA spokesperson Meke Namindo said the hubs' operations are still ongoing.

She further denied that any staff would be sent home or that Kambindji had resigned because of inactivity at the Rundu hub.

“The hubs' operations are still ongoing and AMTA is supplying to some of the OMAs.”

Namindo said producers are still supplying through the hubs.

When asked what some of the challenges were, in terms of implementing the cabinet resolution, she said: “Not all OMAs are currently on board.”

Sources said AMTA is also struggling to get support from the OMAs following the implementation of a cabinet decision that they should procure all agricultural products locally through the agency.

They said the Ongwediva and Rundu hubs' operations have ceased because there are no agents operating at the facilities.

“We are busy considering if we are going to switch off the hub or start doing business on our own. Since March, when the agents left, the place has been quiet and we are not sure if we will be getting customers or if we going to start doing business on our own,” a Rundu hub source said.

In Ongwediva, sources said they will consider waiting until the OMAs come on board.

“There is, however, no sign that the OMAs will come on board. They are not providing us with the information that we required from them.”

Ismael David Fysal, from Fysal Fresh, said before their contract was extended for three months, they were ready to relocate their operations to Ondangwa.

He said they decided to move to Ondangwa beforehand, because they do not know what is likely to happen after the three-month contract extension.

On 26 February, Schlettwein wrote to all ministers, governors, town mayors, board chairpersons and executive directors, informing them that in terms of section 73 of the Public Procurement Act of 2015, all public entities are directed to include specific provisions in their tender specifications to ensure that entities wanting to bid for any catering contract for the provision of food shall source meat, fresh produce, cereal and flour from local producers.

According to Sylvanus Naunyango, the chairperson of Olushandja Farmers Association - a group of private small-scale farmers at the Olushandja Dam that were also acting as agents at the Ongwediva fresh-produce hub - business was not good.

This was because there was no specific market, especially for institutional commodities, apart from walk-in customers who mainly bought tomatoes and onions.

Naunyango added they were happy and engaged the prime minister on their needs.

“We were behind the creation of AMTA as an opportunity for our products to get access to the market. We even made sure that we got space inside to sell and market our products. It was a good idea, but it was still useless, because our products could still not get into the market because the OMAs' catering companies were not sourcing their produce through AMTA.

“The majority of our customers were homeowners who only bought tomatoes and onions. Institutional commodities such as gem squash, carrots, beetroot and many more had no customers, unless they were finished in the country,” Naunyango said.

“The prime minister came and we had a meeting where we gave our sentiments that we would like the government to accord us an opportunity for our products to be consumed by OMAs within our localities. We were therefore informed to vacate AMTA and go back to our friends to go and produce, but until today we did not receive consumption demand for us to do our cropping programme, to enable us satisfy the market.”

Naunyango added that as long as things are well-coordinated, they have capacity to meet the demand.

AMTA gave Fysal Fresh another three-month contract last month to operate from the Ongwediva hub, but could not save a trial agreement with Namsov from falling apart.

Fysal Fresh, which had signed a year-long deal prior to the extension, was ready to end its operations at the hub in June, while Namsov, which had signed a six-month to set up a fish-supplying point, left after its contract with AMTA was not renewed in time.

In February last year, AMTA entered into a public-private-partnership agreement with Fysal Fresh to operate from its fresh-produce hubs nationwide, which joined four other agents that were already operating at the hubs.

Fysal Fresh was the last remaining private agent to operate from AMTA's Ongwediva hub since February.

Although Fysal Fresh was initially only given a one-year contract, the deal was heavily criticised in some circles. Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila visited the Ongwediva hub in September last year after receiving complaints that Fysal Fresh was sourcing produce from South Africa and trading it at the government hub.

After her visit, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila held a meeting with fellow cabinet ministers to discuss a new procurement programme for government.

She explained at the time that some small-scale farmers in Oshana and Omusati had complained about government's procurement system and programmes, especially about companies catering for hospitals and schools, correctional services, the defence force, the Food Bank and drought relief, not being supportive of small-scale farmers.

“Similar complaints have been raised by small-scale farmers in Kavango West and Kavango East and the Zambezi Region, as well as some other small local business entities,” Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said at the time.

Her meeting with her cabinet colleagues took place shortly after the country second national land conference, which had also raised the issue of government procurement from small-scale farmers.

On 25 March, agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb informed all OMAs about the implementation of the cabinet decision related to local procurement.

He said cabinet had directed that all OMAs should include a qualification requirement in their food supply tender specifications, which stipulates that food supplied to government institutions should be sourced from local producers and suppliers, particularly from the national fresh-produce business hubs.

Agriculture ministry spokesperson Margaret Kalo could not provide any detail on Tuesday regarding the implementation of the cabinet decision.

Youth ministry spokesperson Aina Shikesho was asked what they were doing to implement the cabinet decision on procuring of local livestock and horticultural and agronomic products through AMTA.

One question also referred to the fact that ministries were requested to provide information on the annual quantity agronomic and livestock products consumed by institutions that fall under them. Shikesho acknowledged receipt of the questions.

Basic education ministry spokesperson Johanna Absalom was also probed on the implementation of the cabinet directive.

“We will revert back to you during the course of the week or next week once we finalise the response,” Absalom said.

Police spokesperson Chief Inspector Kaunapawa Shikwambi referred all questions to the safety and security executive director Trephine Panduleni Kamati, when asked about the cabinet decision, saying she would respond on behalf of the ministry.

“This is news to me. However, since you are rightfully saying it's a cabinet decision, I suggest that you engage the office of the executive director to respond on behalf of the ministry,” Shikwambi said. Questions were also sent to Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) spokesperson, Deputy Commissioner Eveline January on the implementation of the cabinet decision.