ZIMBABWE - The Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) has so far received $7 million in tobacco levy from farmers across the country.
TIMB chief executive Andrew Matibiri last week told farmers at the closure of the 2015 Marketing Season and National Tobacco Conference that the funds were yet to be disbursed due to delays by Treasury.
“Between March and now, we have been trying to get the ministry to give guidelines on how to use the funds,” Matibiri said.
He added that the TIMB board could not make a decision on how the money was to be used without the ministry’s approval.
“We created an account at CBZ, $7 million has been sitting in the account and looking at the calendar now, it’s too late for us to implement most of the projects wanted by the board,” the TIMB boss said.
After being phased out in 2005, the afforestation levy was reintroduced last year. The 1,5 percent levy is deducted on all sales by growers to fund re-forestation activities.
Since January 2015, TIMB charged the levy on tobacco growers at a rate of $0,015 of each dollar made in sales.
TIMB chairperson Monica Chinamasa said the ministry of Finance had to respond promptly as farmers had started suspecting the funds were being abused.
“Farmers may think their money has been abused. It is wrong that farmers contribute towards a certain project and it does not kick off. Farmers want to see action.
“We are afraid the fund may be channeled to other organisations such as the Forestry Commission.
The fund was collected by TIMB and it should be the one that should execute the projects. If other organisations want to have their projects, they should have their own source of money. In this case the fund was contributed by farmers and it should only benefit farmers,” she said.
This was after a tobacco farmer had asked about the whereabouts of the money.
“We have contributed but have not heard anything about the money, where is this money? How much has accumulated so far? And why have there been no disbursements?
“We do not want a situation which will see the previous season’s contributions overlap into current seasons, it will open room for the exploitation of the fund by whomever,” the farmer said.
Last year, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, in his 2015 National Budget said the re-introduced levy was set to go towards conservation programmes.
This was after national tobacco production surged to a record 216 million kg, which spurred fears of environmental degradation as most tobacco farmers use wood to cure the plant.
While efforts to get a comment from the ministry of Finance were futile, a source close to the developments told the businessdaily that the ministry had been tapping into the fund for relief in paying the civil service.