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Kitgum: Farmers, NUSAF official clash over procurement guidelines

Farmers’ groups in Kitgum district have put their NUSAF Desk Officer (NDO) on the spot for allegedly contravening procurement guidelines and inflating costs of items under the Third Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF 3).

The sixty farmers, organized in four groups in Labongo, Amida Sub-County, raised the complaints on Saturday, when the NDO delivered 240 kilograms of exotic simsim seeds to be divided among four farmers’ groups. 

However, the group members rejected the seeds, claiming that the NDO hijacked their role of procuring the seeds locally, thus denying them the opportunity to negotiate with the supplier, Equator Seeds.

Ocaya Acellam, the Chairperson procurement of Lukira South “A” Ox traction, Simsim and Cassava growing group in Labongo Amida sub county said that in June this year, the NDO had them sign the Local Purchase Order (LPO) document for procurement of the seeds before they had undergone training.

It was only during the training that they learnt that sourcing of suppliers was the duty of the groups’ the procurement committee.

“During the training we asked who the supplier is, but the NDO said we should not concern ourselves with that because the seeds had already been ordered for,” Acellam said.

“He told us that if we sourced for a supplier he is unaware of, then he would not sign the form authorising us to get money from our group account bank to buy the seeds,” he added.  

Acellam reveals that NDO also gave them 60 kilogram of simsim seeds, yet they wanted only 30 kilograms for their 15 acres, meaning the 30 excess kilograms had encroached on the group’s budget.

“When we complained about the excess kilograms, he said the seeds were already in the district, so we should divide the excess among the group members, or keep for sowing the next season,” Acellam narrated.

Walter Kinyera, Chairperson Lukwor East “A” farmers’ group in Labongo Amida Sub county, also says the 15-member group had ploughed 10 acres which would require about 30 kilograms of simsim seeds to sow, but they were given 60 kilograms, which cost Shs540,000, yet the type they had wanted would have cost them Shs 135,000 only.

According to Kinyera, he and the Secretary and Treasurer of the group signed the LPO, but when they asked if they could bargain on the asking price of the item, they were told it was not possible. 

“We know that if one is buying something in bulk, they get some discount, but we have been denied that chance.”

He also says the seeds were delivered late.

“We were supposed to get the seeds at the beginning of June when we signed the document, but they were brought on July 11. We have not yet planted because of this confusion, yet the latest date for sowing the seeds is between July 15-20,” Kinyera said.

The farmers have left the seeds at the sub-county headquarters, demanding that the NDO organise a meeting between them and the seed supplier so that they know who to confront in case the seeds don’t germinate.

Wilfred Nyeko LC III Labongo Amida sub-county, says the group members feel that they were duped into signing the LPO, because during training, they were told that their project procurement committee had the right to source for suppliers.

“You know some community members don’t know how to interpret certain concepts in documents. So, on Saturday when they were called to pick simsim seeds, they were confused, because they knew they were going to buy the seeds themselves,” Nyeko said.

Overpriced 

Nyeko said the pricing of the simsim seeds and the variety are also a centre of controversy. The seeds which were brought are conventional, but the farmers wanted organic variety which costs between Shs. 4,500-5,000 a kilogram in the open market, and yields well.

theCooperator learned that Equator Seeds sold each kilogram of the seeds at Shs 9.000 to farmer groups in Labongo Amida, Namukora and Lagoro sub-counties, and at Shs 15,000 per kilo to farmer groups in Orom Sub-County.

Nyeko also accuses the NUSAF officials of overcharging the groups for tractor hire by demanding that they pay Shs 150,000 per acre tilled, yet, he says, tractor hire ought to cost Shs 80,000per acre. 

As a result of the high price of tractor hire, members of Lukira South “A” Ox traction, Simsim and Cassava growing group, say they decided to plough their 15 acres using hand hoes which was much cheaper.

Kenneth Nyero, the LC III of Namukora Town Council says that whereas NUSAF is a community driven project in which the beneficiaries are supposed to decide what they want to embark on, this is not the case in Kitgum district.

“Generally, there are a lot of anomalies concerning NUSAF projects within the district. Groups are coerced on things like tree planting, oxen and drilling boreholes against their will, but that is not how it is supposed to be done,” Nyero said.

There are six block farms in the sub county, where each group is benefiting from Shs 40 million. There are also three tree-planting groups, with each getting Shs 60 million, while the ox-traction groups get Shs 17.5 million each. 

However, Nyero says a lot of money goes into procurement, which would not be the case if items were sourced locally by the group leaders.

“Over 490 million should go to Namukora Town Council, but the problem is in the procurement process. Negotiations are not done and there are variations in price of the same item for different sub counties. But when the farmers complained, they were told to either take the seeds or quit the groups” Nyero said.

NDO responds

When contacted, Wany David Oyok the NDO Kitgum, said during implementation of NUSAF activities, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) sends prequalified firms for supply of certified seeds. 

For the case of Kitgum district, he says, 11 companies were prequalified, but Equator Seeds was chosen, because they had the seeds that suit the weather and soil condition in the Northern region.

Oyok explained that there are three categories of bidding under NUSAF: local bidding, where adverts run for two weeks. The second one is the local shopping, where beneficiaries go and shop for items they want, as long as it is below one million shillings, and the third is the direct contracting or single sourcing, where there is only one company within the community that can supply the wanted item.

“So, since the first two methods were not applicable due to time constraints, we did single sourcing, where we guided the community to raise an LPO to the company so that they could supply the items directly to them, and that is the document they signed,” Oyok said.

About the viability of the seeds, Oyok said test-germination was done by district officials and they found that the seeds were viable before they were distributed.

A matter of communication?

The vice Chairperson of Kitgum district, Billigraham Odongkara, told theCooperator that he met with district NUSAF officials Thursday.

In the meeting, it was agreed that the NUSAF officials to visit the different groups’ members together with the supplier and explain clearly to the beneficiaries the reasons for the adopted course of action so as to prevent further confusion.

“The NDO did not make it clear to the beneficiaries that for this project, the items are supposed to be supplied by a prequalified supplier. So, there was a communication gap.”

On the pricing of the seeds, the vice Chairperson said the NDO again made the mistake of not explaining to the beneficiaries why the cost of simsim seeds was that high.

“The officials were given a go ahead to source for seeds from NARO in Lira. These are tested seeds, that is why they are pricier. The NDO went himself but because he did not inform the members, so it caused confusion,” Odongkara said. 

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