Government cannot institute criminal proceedings against farmers who misuse agricultural inputs and produce under the Command Agriculture scheme, as the contracts between the two parties are of a civil nature and can only attract civil remedies, the Parliamentary Legal Committee has said.
In July last year, the government gazetted Statutory Instrument (SI) 79 of 2017, which provided for the criminalisation of unauthorized purchase, selling or disposal of inputs and crops linked to the programme, with offenders facing three months imprisonment.
Command Agriculture is a Government scheme in which farmers are provided with inputs to produce an agreed amount of produce.
But, the PLC led by respected lawyer Jonathan Samukange, said the scheme was governed by a civil contract between the Government and the farmer similar to any civil contracts regulated by the law of contract.
“Thus there is no need to create a criminal offence under a Statute where it is already provided for in terms of a contract,” the committee said in an adverse report issued after deliberating on the SI.
For example, the committee said if a person failed to pay back money borrowed from a bank, the aggrieved party’s only right was to approach the civil court to attach and sell securities or properties to recover the defaulted loan.
It added, criminalisation of breach of contracts would not strengthen debt recovery laws or speedy recovery of loans in cases of breach of contract or default in the repayment of a loan.
“The aggrieved party cannot seek recourse from the criminal court because the cause of action emanates from a purely civil contract and thus attracts civil remedies not punishment.”
“Civil contractual agreements cannot be criminalised like what the Statutory Instrument seeks to do. This is ultra vires the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution. The offences created under this Statutory Instrument are already covered by the Criminal Code.
“Conclusively, Statutory Instrument 79 of 2017 undermines a constitutionally entrenched right that is founded on fairness and justice to all. The Statutory Instrument goes against the founding principle of good governance, which binds not only the Ministry of Agriculture but all agencies of State, being the principle of transparency, justice, accountability and responsiveness, iterated in section 3(2)(g) of the Constitution.”
Despite reports of alleged corruption, the command agriculture scheme has largely been successful, and has assisted Zimbabwe regain food self-sufficiency.
The programme, which started off with maize only, has now been expanded to include other crops such as wheat, soya beans and livestock. – New Ziana.