Minister of local government and rural development Eric Molale has told Parliament that government has spent P431 million on the Covid-19 relief programme. The relief came in the form of providing food and hygiene products to vulnerable household across the country. The amount was spread between supporting farmers who had realised good harvest during lockdown at a cost of P32 558 174 on procurement of agricultural produce countrywide and food hampers as well as hygiene products.
“The remaining food items comprising maize meal, bread, flour, sorghum meal and samp worth P9, 018,041 were kept in the warehouses across the country at the conclusion of the programme. The Covid-19 relief food left overs were distributed to vulnerable groups, schools and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and these were distributed in good quality except in Francistown where some donated items had expired,” Molale said. Molale further revealed that the food leftovers were due to donations from the private sector, individuals and development partners that came at the tail end of the programme. “However, the food was distributed to deserving people, save for that had expired,” Molale said.He was answering a question from Member of Parliament (MP) for Sefhare-Ramokgonami Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang.
The MP has sought to know among others how much was used by government to purchase food commodities, the quantity and quality of relief food stuffs that remained and were kept at warehouses across the country at the conclusion of the programme and what the ministry did with the COVID-19 Relief Food left overs if there were any. The Minister said: “My Ministry is aware of reports alleging food shortages and hunger. I and my assistant ministers were always responsive and providing on the spot guidance across the country on the various aspects of the relief programme. Further to that, we had sent correspondence to village and district leadership, copied to all Members of Parliament to guide on the process necessary for a successful Relief programme.”
The challenges encountered during the course of the Covid 19 Food Relief programme included non-deserving people being given food, hoarding and double dipping which led to excessive expenditure and overpricing of commodities comprising food baskets. Overpricing was done on agricultural produce as some middlemen were getting commodities from farmers at low prices and selling to government at exorbitant prices, despite clear instructions that councils source directly from farmers.
Gobotswang asked the Minister whether or not he would reprimand those who were behind irregularities behind the Covid-19 food relief programme as there was a time during the lockdowns when Dikgosi, social welfare officials could not assist those who did not receive their food packages. “With the presence of irregularities, we investigated to see how they came about, I want to tell this house that some were outright criminality and we have taken the cases to relevant authorities. Others were errors on our side and we have taken responsibility,” Molale said.
On the lessons learnt from the initiative, Molale said: “Response to any disaster is not for government alone but with the support of the private sector, individuals and development partners. There is a lack of proper data base for suppliers and their capacity to supply food items timeously. There is need for District profiling to guide future interventions in terms of where and what resources can be mobilised within a short time in various localities