News and Information

Food rots as people go hungry
June 7, 2005

SOME 18 400 bags of maize meal intended for flood and drought relief to needy people are rotting in a military warehouse outside Katima Mulilo, seemingly because officials are not being paid overtime to deliver the food.

At a time when the Caprivi Region is once again pleading for assistance to feed thousands of hungry people - there have not been enough rains to produce even a meagre harvest - thousands of bottles of cooking oil, packets of instant rice and tins of biscuits are being eaten by mice and monkeys.

Secretary to Cabinet Frans Kapofi was told by an official at the town yesterday that a decision by the Prime Minister's Office last September that aid distributors could no longer claim overtime, could be the reason why food aid was not delivered to displaced flood victims after they returned home.

Livid about the situation, Kapofi flew to the region yesterday at the order of the President and the Prime Minister after a tip-off to his office last week that around N$45 000 worth of aid was going to waste.

"It's the worst case of negligence this country has seen where people's lives are at stake," Kapofi told The Namibian, angered with the leadership of the Regional Emergency Management Unit (Remu).

It is believed that the 12,5-kilogramme bags of maize meal, stored at the M'pacha Army Base, could have been in storage for almost a year.

A bag of maize meal, as packaged for relief purposes, has a shelf life of around six months.

A truck driver delivering bags of rice donated by India to the warehouse last week alerted the Cabinet secretariat to the rotting food.

Caprivi Governor and Chairperson of the Remu, Bernhard Sibalatani, informed Cabinet last Wednesday that health inspectors had declared the food, described by officials as "mysterious spoiled stock", unfit for human consumption.

"I am going to report back [to the President and the Prime Minister] that the leadership has been negligent.

It was never intended to be stored like that.

It was supposed to be given to the people," Kapofi told the media after his visit.

He was accompanied to the Caprivi by the Deputy Director of the Emergency Management Unit (EMU), Gabriel Kangowa, and Erica Ndiyepa, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development.

With neither Sibalatani nor any of the emergency relief team able to explain the presence of the "mysterious stock" in the military warehouse, the Police have now been called in to investigate.

Yesterday morning, close to 40 heads of departments and units from various Ministries were summoned to a meeting at the Governor's office to inform them of the situation and to request their input on what they know about the rotting food.

"It is not a usual practice that we discuss our business under the watchful eye of journalists, but they have the right to hear what has been going on in their capacity as citizens of this country," Kapofi told the gathering.

"We can't sweep these things under the carpet."

NO ANSWERS But it did little in the way of providing answers as to how long the maize meal had been stored there, why it had not been distributed, or who gave the orders for officials to stop the distribution.

"The news that has reached Government that there is spoiled food here is very, very true and very, very correct," is all Sibalatani could offer.

The commanding officer at the M'pacha Army Base, Lieutenant Colonel Fillemon Heita, said he had informed the Governor's office that the food was going to waste a month ago, when he spotted mouse trails around the warehouse during a monthly inspection of the base.

Sibalatani told the meeting that his investigations over the last two weeks had yielded no answers to why food was being stored instead of being distributed.

He blamed officials for a "lack of co-operation" and said he had decided to call in the Police last week.

"We still have no comprehensive report.

The investigations are still nowhere," he told the meeting.

One official, who previously worked in the Remu offices, maintained that a directive on overtime payment from the Prime Minister's Office on September 20 could have led to the deliveries being stopped.

He could, however, not say who had given the order to stop the distribution.

By that time people displaced by last year's floods had returned to their villages, but Government had pledged to continue providing them with aid because they had no harvest.

Kapofi refused to accept this reasoning.

He said officials were paid for an eight-hour working day and, apart from that, could not let their own people starve simply because they were not being paid overtime.

"These are our own people.

Just imagine, this food is delivered from Windhoek, shipped from other countries and people here are refusing to deliver it to our people.

You have from eight until five.

What are you doing? You want public money but you don't want to serve them and you call yourself a Government official," he fumed.

Kapofi said those involved in allowing the food to rot could just as well "start packing their bags."

Another official said transport problems were hampering distribution, because a helicopter used during the height of the evacuations was withdrawn from operation once the floodwaters subsided.

'NO ONE TOLD US' He maintained that the emergency task team had not been "mandated" nor "instructed" on how the food should be transported to the villages after flood victims had returned home.

"It doesn't matter which people got the food, whether it is for the east or the west, drought or flood, as long as this food gets to the people.

If we were told about this situation, we would have done something to ensure the food got to the people," Kapofi told officials.

While the region was hit by life-threatening floods in the eastern floodplains, those in the west were suffering from drought.

When the Windhoek delegation arrived at the warehouse to inspect the condition of the 230 tons of maize meal, a lot of clean-up work had apparently been done as regional officials were informed of Kapofi's trip.

However, Kapofi and his team had already seen pictures of the state of the stock before travelling to Katima Mulilo and it had been reported that many of the damaged bags of food had already been thrown away.

"They will have to come up with very good reasons to get food for this coming season," said Kangowa.

At the time of their visit, several workers had not only restacked the maize bags, but were packing the recently delivered 50-kilogram bags of rice.

Remu in Caprivi uses a warehouse in town as its main store for food aid.

Chief Regional Officer Raymond Matiti said officials might have "forgotten" about the stockpiles at the military warehouse, 20 kilometres outside the town, at the height of the distribution process.

Kapofi said he was not immediately convinced that all the food was spoiled and would send a health inspection team to the region soon to test the food.

He said given this situation, Government would struggle to obtain international food aid in future.

With the Caprivi having received minimal rainfall this year, people have once again been unable to produce a harvest and many are said to be going hungry.


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