GMB officials cash in on maize scam as millions face starvation

GMB officials cash in on maize scam as millions face starvation
By Alex Bell
22 October 2008
As the lack of food in Zimbabwe continues to put millions of people's lives at risk and food aid becomes increasingly urgent, officials from the Grain Marketing Board are taking advantage of the desperate nature of the situation by cashing in on a recently uncovered maize scam.


The minimal amounts of grain making it into the country are being deliberately diverted for black market trading, where officials are then able to make high profits from sales in foreign currency and livestock trade. Several GMB employees are facing trial after selling the maize in foreign currency, and a number of ZANU PF and government officials are also accused of using their links to acquire maize for black market trading.


The latest case involves the manager of the GMB’s Esigodini depot,

Bhekani Ncube and Thembinkosi Sibanda, a clerk, who apparently acquired

several cars and livestock after selling maize in foreign currency. The two appeared before the magistrate’s court in Esigodini last Wednesday facing charges of criminal abuse of office after they were arrested for stealing more than a ton of maize. In another case, the Bulawayo city council was drawn into the scandal after GMB employees bought more than seven tons of maize on the pretext that it was meant for the city’s Thorngrove Hospital. Several GMB employees are also awaiting trial in Matabeleland North after they were caught selling maize in foreign currency.


The scam comes as millions of Zimbabweans are fighting a day-to-day battle of survival because of the lack of food. The critical shortage has already resulted in unknown numbers of deaths, and left an already ailing nation at risk of more disease as the effects of starvation take hold. The UN has warned that the recent cholera outbreak, that has claimed the lives of 15 people in Harare’s Chitungwiza Township alone, will become endemic come the rainy season. At the same time, the country’s hospitals are unable to treat even the most basic ailments, because of a lack of staff and critical medical supplies.


Dr Douglas Gwatidzo from the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told Newsreel on Wednesday that the combination of the food and health crises means there is a serious disaster on our hands.’ He questioned whether the country’s already strained and ill-supplied hospitals would be able to treat the expected influx of victims of hunger-related disease and cholera, arguing authorities are in denial about the out of control humanitarian crisis.


The authorities at the forefront of taking care of this kind of problem do not want to accept there is a problem at all, Dr Gwatidzo explained. The longer they refuse to accept that there is a disaster in their hands, the more people will die.


The humanitarian crisis has seen Zimbabwe’s NGOs put pressure on the government to declare the situation a national disaster, saying this will step up the volume of emergency aid entering the country. Dr Gwatidzo agreed on Wednesday that this is a necessary measure, but added it is dependent on the government to prove they are serious about rebuilding the country.



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